With Seven in One Blow, Axis Theater Company has rewritten a classic Brothers Grimm tale (of a boy who kills seven flies in one swat and goes on to perform fearless feats) for a modern, child-friendly audience. In doing so, however, they’ve traded satire and irony for a watered-down, happy-go-lucky version.
Jim Sterling, Lynn Mancinelli, Brian Barnhart in Seven in One Blow / Photo by Dixie Sheridan
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
In the Brothers Grimm version of “Seven in One Blow,” a young boy kills seven food-stealing flies in a single blow. He makes a belt to boast of this accomplishment and seeks his fortune with his newfound bravery and cunning, unaware that everyone he meets assumes he has killed seven men. In the Axis Theater Company’s annual production, they have traded in all the satire and irony for a sappy version marketed to young children right before Christmas.
Randy Sharp’s new script and lively, cheerful direction, now features an androgynous female heroine, Kid (Lynn Mancinelli), who sports a cropped pixie haircut and a rough-and-tumble costume of work boots, navy khakis, and suspenders. After fashioning her belt, she leaves home— not to seek her fortune so much as to flee her workaholic, inattentive parents. What follows grows increasingly cheesy: the conversion of a materialistic king, QK (David Crabb), and his daughter, Princess Fartina the Beautiful (Britt Genelin), into thoughtful and considerate rulers; the calming of an angry Pea (Laurie Kilmartin) thanks to the children in the audience shouting out their love for the vegetable.
The script’s attempt to engage a young audience with its goofy cast of characters and simplified storyline emphasized by small sentences (most of which start with gee and end in gosh) comes across as a cop out—worse, as something purely commercial. The most audience-grabbing part of the play has nothing to do with the story, but with what the actors do with their one-dimensional characters, and the masterful crew behind all the bells and whistles.
In true children’s story fashion, the principal villains outshine the protagonist in personality and presence, and here the first to do so is Ogre (Jim Sterling). Stomping onstage with a bellow and a growl, Sterling terrifies and amuses at the same time, and like most ogres, makes up for his overwhelming brawn by being gleefully outsmarted. The Witch (Spencer Aste), serves the same purpose from an entirely different angle. Perfecting a falsetto screech and bob-and-weave leer all over the stage, Aste epitomizes a creepy old woman with his hunched-over demeanor and all-black ensemble. The Scarlet Pimpernell (producing director Brian Barnhart), though not a villain, is also a delight. Fretting and flitting about with a proper British accent, the Scarlet Pimpernell yearns for unconditional friendship despite his shaky personality, and Barnhart’s genuine, passionate performance warms up the entire production. The narrator (Marc Palmieri) also smooths out the play’s choppiness. His old-school Brooklyn accent gets so animated—as does Palmieri, always playing to the curious young audience—that plot holes are ignored in favor of audience participation.
Costume designer Elisa Santiago provides most of the play’s childlike wonder, with archetypal choices that help the audience recognize a Witch or an Ogre while still giving these images a creative twist, such as linebacker shoulder pads, bald wigs, and bucktoothed gap teeth. This works especially well with the traditional fairytale garb of capes, sashes, vests and boots, creating comical, cartoonish costumes without going overboard. Lighting and sound designers David Zeffren and Steve Fontaine work together with marvelous results, such as the blazing red and white light show when Ogre tries to kill Kid or the goofy gunshots QK fires into the air. Seven in One Blow isn’t the most memorable bit of children’s theater, but it does serve the purpose of a perfect holiday treat: sugary and colorful enough to be enjoyed in the moment.
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