Gang of Seven Brings Existential Confusion into Tight Focus

By Robert Simonson

published: December 17, 2008

The characters in Gang of Seven, playwright Jim Neu's latest exercise in thoughtful whimsy, are so removed from genuine experience that they only come to life as members of a rebellious focus group. Talking and thinking in lockstep, they venture out of their personal "charisma closets" to attack the world in harmonic spasms of studied, self-conscious mass punditry. That is, until vanity and ambition cause them to splinter, soliloquize, and, yes, sing.

Neu is here, as always, to remind us how secondhand our lives have become: Natural instincts are dead as a doornail, supplanted long ago by media-informed behavior just shy of stage-acting. "People say you've got to face the truth about yourself," intones one of his would-be oracles. "I say you've got to face the fiction." Neu's talent is that he faces these heady issues with a light touch, a raised eyebrow, and a Puckish wit; few playwrights can carry off such breezy intellectualism. The hour-long piece, directed by longtime collaborator Keith McDermott, is Neu's strongest and tightest play in years. A nearly nonstop feast of logic-bending "fašadism," psychobabblish bon mots, and hilariously dry-eyed tangents about smear campaigns and sports-arena bloodlust, it brings existential confusion into tight focus.