A diverse group of distinctive heroes band together to defeat an evil menace.
For Warner Brothers Pictures telling this type of story costs over $300 million and involves Zack Snyder, Joss Whedon, a full cast and crew AND editors AND special effects people AND advertising and marketing personnel with commercial support from corporate promotional product tie-ins and a whole lot of cinemas all over the world.
For Theatre Gigante to tell this type of story they need only...one man...
(And a couple of masks, a stage and a few lighting cues. Actually there are about a half a dozen people involved in the production listed in the program but out there onstage...it’s just one man...)
The percentage of people likely to be satisfied this weekend by Warner Brothers’ Justice League isn’t likely to be nearly as close to 100% as it is with Theatre Gigante and David Gaines’ 7(X1) Samurai. Anybody can tell a heroic adventure story with few hundred million dollars. It takes a special kind of crazy to tell this kind of story with one guy live onstage...and it’s a lot more fun to watch. Okay...I’ll say it: More people should be going out to see Gaines this weekend. More people would probably enjoy an evening with Gaines in a studio theatre better than another trip to the multiplex to see millionaires play superheroes.
Gaines comic tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is kind of heroic in and of itself. One man plays over a dozen characters. He brings across an entire heroic adventure story with almost no dialogue. There’s a hero’s mask. There’s a villain’s mask. The rest is all David Gaines. 7(X1) Samurai is a story he’s been telling for years and it’s A LOT of fun.
Villains come to terrorize a small, impoverished farming community. One of them goes out in search of a group of samurai to champion them. The farmer has no money so he must rely on a ragtag group of lone warriors. And it’s up to one guy to tell the story.
40 years ago a Kurosawa enthusiast and failed aspiring race car driver from Modesto, California helped usher-in the modern era of special effects-driven Hollywood action films. In the past 40 years telling a popular heroic action story has gotten really, really complicated. David Gaines proves that it doesn’t need to be. He strips down the complexities of characterization in over a dozen characters to a brilliantly minimalist live action stage experience. He delivers a sense of action and pacing to the stage that draws comedy from its presentation alone.
Gaines’ work is a study in action/adventure in its most minimal form. Strikingly complicated action sequences are scaled back to the simple drama that rests at the center of it all. Most of the dialogue in an action movie is bad anyway...so Gaines uses almost no dialogue in his performance. Hollywood action uses complex set pieces and sophisticated editing. Gaines uses simple hand gestures and a brilliantly inventive sense of scale that allows him to move fluidly from close-ups to wide shots all by himself without interrupting the flow of action.
A lot of the appeal in 7(X1) Samurai is maddeningly difficult to write about in a simple review. Calling it a thoroughly satisfying mime/clown retelling of a classic heroic action film (THE classic heroic action film) doesn’t do it justice. I could go into detail on the clever technique Gaines uses to center himself between characters. I could pick apart the clever way Gaines breaks down a fight scene to constituent characters without losing the pulse of the action. And I could mention again that it’s all just one guy, but there’s no way to make this show sound anywhere near as impressive as it is. At one point without breaking rhythm Gaines uses fingers across his back to illustrate action off in the distance. There’s literally NO WAY to make that sound anywhere near as cool as it is.
So once again--Hollywood could learn a lot from Gaines. You could spend a few hundred million and not quite get it right. (Hollywood producers have a lot of experience doing this kind of failure.) Get the right person, though...someone who knows and loves the drama and comedy at the heart of heroic action and let them go to work alone onstage. THAT’S when you’ve got a truly entertaining trip to the theatre.
Theatre Gigante and David Gaines’ one-weekend only engagement of 7(X1) Samurai runs through Nov. 19 at Kenilworth 508 Theatre on 1925 E Kenilworth Place. For more information, visit Theatre Gigante online.