Jim Neu, a veteran of experimental theater and a standby at La MaMa, has struck again with “Gang of Seven,” a brief but engaging torrent of intriguing ideas and dizzying wordplay. Largely a conversation among seven archetypes seated onstage, the play raises a heady froth of provocation within its hourlong running time.
The assembled are members of a focus group — Raymond, an aging wag in a bow tie (Byron Thomas); the refined Dawn (Mary Shultz), who fears the group is losing its “veil of anonymity”; the corporate curmudgeon Steve (Mr. Neu); the free-spirited Sh’rell (Chris Maresca); the entrepreneurial hustler Michael (John Costelloe); the na´ve teenager Sandy (Kristine Lee); and Frank, a working-class stiff (Tony Nunziata). They congratulate themselves on their authority to confer status on things never made entirely clear: products, say, or political candidates. Together, they delight in the fabrication of reality, the manufacture of perception, and employ a baffling marketing-speak (“veneer management,” “facade-ism” and “rumorizing”).
Their smug solidarity is tested by flare-ups of independence and spontaneity, embodied at one point by a mild flirtation between Ms. Maresca and Mr. Costelloe, but things eventually right themselves, if these electronic-media-addled consumers can ever be well adjusted.
“Uncommitted is the new black, and I’ve learned to be proud,” Ms. Lee says. Utterly compliant, they have been hidden from their own feelings: “I can barely remember the last time I felt so close to myself!” Mr. Nunziata says tearfully. Ultimately, the play turns to theatrical convention but invests it with new meaning.
“Gang of Seven” rewards repeat viewing — once is not enough to savor the abundant verbal pirouettes. The actors are appealing, well served by Mr. Neu’s frequent director, Keith McDermott, and conveying a palpable rapport. Some are familiar hands on Neu productions, and others are new, but discerning the veterans from the rookies isn’t easy. (Ms. Shultz and Mr. Neu are especially good.) By the end you may not have retained all of the play’s notions, but your brain will be abuzz with them.
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