Theatre Gigante, words then action
You all know “Seven Samurai,” Kurosawa’s classic film, right? If not, rent it immediately or remain aesthetically and culturally hopeless.
Imagine a one-man Seven Samurai that blends clowning, Kabuki, mime, martial arts and live vocal sound effects straight out of Looney Toons. That’s David Gaines’ 7 (x1) Samurai, which fills the second half of the Theatre Gigante program that opened Thursday night.
Gaines not only plays all the archetypical warriors, but also an entire village of peasants they protect and the brigands they wipe out.
He’s a rubber-faced, tumbling marvel and a genius at clarifying action and locale, from the top of the lookout tower to the bottom deepest defensive trench. He used very few words — most of the talk was in a hilarious, grunting faux Japanese — but the story was remarkably clear. Various whistles and sound effects became leitmotifs; you soon understood that those scurrying fingers were hordes of villagers and the th-th-thump stood for the hoofbeats beneath the attacking brigands.
Gaines was very much the living cartoon character, with all the desperate, wacky grace, propulsive rhythm and sudden speed of Wiley E. Coyote and Roadrunner. When you think of it, those old Warner Bros. cartoon characters are not that far removed from the broad, vivid personalities in “Seven Samurai.”
Malcolm Tulip’s and… Action! is a world apart from Gaines’ physical virtuosity. Tulip spent seven or eight days with Isabelle Kralj (who also directed), John Kishline and Mark Anderson improvising scenes about actors about to audition for film roles. Tulip left town, sent them a script a short time later, and the actors were on their own.
It disorients in playful, sophisticated and funny ways. The same words slip into new meanings. Intermittent voice-over call-outs of scenes and shots suggests that the entire thing might be only a movie. We become less and less sure about what is the play and what is the scene that the actors playing actors are about to play in their audition. We even become less and less sure about what is theater and what is the reality of the lives of veteran Milwaukee performers on the very intimate stage of the Off-Broadway Theatre, where the scale of the acting can be one-to-one with real life.
Whatever that is.
This A Night at the Movies program will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Nov. 6-7) at the Off-Broadway Theater, 342 N. Water St. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors, $10 for students; call 414 278-0765.
Other reviews: Russ Bickerstaff.