Green tea is served during the dinner and dessert breaks of the Flea Theater’s production of Sean Graney’s THESE SEVEN SICKNESSES, which telescopes the seven extant tragedies of Sophocles into a single play. The cast mingles with the audience during the intervals – the gentleman at the serving cart plays the warrior Ajax a few moments after the last teacup is downed.

The Chicago premiere of the play was reportedly a brisk three-and-a-half hours, but director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s New York version runs about five hours, a stratagem that mutes the thigh slapping parody that must have characterized the breakneck original. It achieves, as a result, a remarkable suspension of ordinary theatrical time, in which moments of genuine tragic power fall like shadows on a sundial between little tick marks of food and laughter. In its portmanteau treatment of a larger cycle, it resembles Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, based on the tales of Ovid (and also out of Chicago), but also calls to mind Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, in which one wanders through an old hotel seeking out snippets of Macbeth.

The audience at the Flea wanders too, but through time instead of space, and musical interludes in a bluegrass/gospel mode evoke time in its eternal and non-linear dimensions, as though to unite the archetypal stories of the Greek and the Judeo-Christian traditions. The cast is young and precocious, some on the level of being spirited and enthusiastic, but others achieving real tragicomic amplitude. I especially liked Tommy Crawford as the Carrier (it is a brilliant touch to cast the same actor as the messenger in each play – were I a police inspector, he would be at the top of my list of suspects); and Katherine Folk-Sullivan’s grace and assurance as Antigone made me want to see her in the full-length play, and in a few others besides.

For information about events at the Flea, click here.

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