If the idea of attending a mime performance makes you want to impale yourself
on a wakizashi, you should head to the Warehouse Theater, now housing a helium-souled
spoof titled "7 (x 1) Samurai."
Utterly absent from this hour-long show (subtitled "An Epic Tale . . . Told by an Idiot") is any Marcel Marceau-like invisible-wall palming. Instead, solo performer David Gaines whizzes through a riotous mime-based lampoon of the Japanese cinematic masterpiece "The Seven Samurai" -- essentially doing for Akira Kurosawa what Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd did for Wagner in the animated classic "What's Opera, Doc?"
Gaines's novelty act nabbed a well-deserved "Pick of the Fringe" award at this year's Capital Fringe Festival, and in transferring to the Warehouse it has lost none of its fizz.
Rollicking around a bare stage, dressed in a short black kimono over a white gi, and supplying a near constant stream of sound effects -- from the "bombidy-bombidy" of horse hooves, to the clatter of a rock in a chasm, to the expressive gibberish that (mostly) takes the place of dialogue -- Gaines conjures up a Looney Tunes version of 17th-century Japan. Occasionally donning one of two eerie masks (whose designs reference Edo-period wood blocks and Kabuki), he channels and burlesques Kurosawa's 1954 film, now embodying doltish peasants; now swashbuckling as samurai of dubious virtuosity; now glowering melodramatically as the bandits who are the story's villains.
So clear are the interactions and mishaps of these largely cartoonish characters that audiences who have never seen "The Seven Samurai" (or John Sturges's 1960 remake, "The Magnificent Seven") will be able to follow along. As a performer and director with a background in mime, commedia and other physical-theater variants (he has studied and taught at the storied Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris), Gaines has an acrobatic genius that allows him to portray both sides of a brawl simultaneously -- to the extent, seemingly, of grabbing himself by the scruff of the neck and hurling himself to the ground, professional wrestling-style.
Other highlights of his clowning here include his impersonation of an exceptionally dimwitted archery student (the technology works best if you actually use an arrow), and his depiction of a ronin whose flashy sword-wielding concludes in the accidental skewering of the showoff's foot.
Fortunately, Gaines has too keen a sense of the ridiculous to be puritanical about traditional mime conventions, such as wordlessness. On a handful of occasions, the characters' wasabi-flavored Babel-speak gives way to discernible English, as when a puzzled, assistance-seeking peasant reads aloud the placard at one bargain-basement warrior business: "Last Chance Samurai . . . and Cocktail Bar."
But finally, in a fleeting but satisfying moment, Gaines boosts the aesthetic beyond slapstick, to the mythic -- Kurosawa was, after all, an admirer of John Ford's, that key player in the development of the seminal American myth that is the western.
As "7 (x 1) Samurai" concludes, the victorious Chief Samurai turns his back on the peasants he's helped and strides solemnly into the dusk (Gaines illustrates the sunset with a shadow-puppet-like hand gesture). Wind noises wuther on a soundtrack, and for a fleeting second or two -- the previous hour's delectable farce notwithstanding -- you feel seriously wistful. You almost want to shout, "Shane, Shane . . . .er, rather, Sensei! Come back!"
Akira Kurosawa has nothing on David Gaines, who performs his 7 (x1) Samurai all by himself in less than 60 minutes when it took the Japanese auteur 3½ hours and a cast of maybe a million. Gaines, a French-trained, northern Virginia-based actor and director, turns his take on Seven Samurai into an captivating combination of movement and sound – absolutely refined and graceful movement, absolutely precise and hilarious sound. Gaines tells the famous story, about a village that defends itself against a band of brigands by engaging a septet of samurai, by taking on all the roles but using a kind of cartoon gibberish: It sounds like Japanese but turns out to be inspired sound effects. When a brigand rides a horse, the sound comes out, "Be-bobbity-bobbity-bob"; when a horse runs him over, it's "poof, pang," and a brigand being eviscerated sounds like "spling, splat." All in fake Japanese, but there's nothing patronizing about it, and Gaines' movements are so considered that you don't want to miss a gesture. He can mime a hapless samurai who keeps stabbing himself or the muscles on a brigand's arm, and each movement is both gorgeous and comical. Japanese epics may not be your thing, but Gaines brings a new kind of nobility to this one. It's bravura storytelling, nothing less.
They say: “Kurosawa’s epic tale of victimized peasants, marauding bandits, and samurai warriors - retold at breakneck pace, through movement, by one exhausted and ridiculous actor. With accompanying gibberish and vocal sound effects.”
Trey’s take: Best 45 minutes of my Fringe so far. Don’t be intimidated by either the Kurosawa name-check — or by the fact that this guy’s a highly trained mime.
Solo artist David Gaines tarts up the tale of The Seven Samurai with decidedly American pop-culture tropes ranging from action-flick fight sequences to Looney Tunes cartoons — I think there’s even a nod in the direction of the Samurai homage The Magnificent Seven — using those instantly recognizable vocabularies to help tell the story almost entirely without words.
And Gaines is as deft as anyone I’ve ever seen at the efficient definition of character: A gesture, a posture, a shambling shrug, or a katana-sheathing shhhhwwwt sound, and you see the archer, the sleepy swordsman, the giant or the klutzy apprentice samurai. By the time the show culminates in an epic one-man rendition of a full-tilt defend-the-village free-for-all, the illusion is total: One guy, a couple of masks, and a white backdrop, and a roiling battle against the landscape of feudal Japan has unfolded in your mind’s eye.
See it if: You grok that, far from being something to sneer at, the rich nonverbal language of mime informs everything from Broadway’s Lion King to Pixar’s Wall-E.
Skip it if: You’ve got better things to do than be charmed by a witty concept and a first-rate performer.
Add this title to your Fringe “must see” list, offered through Saturday at Gabriel’s Corner. Go prepared to laugh with little letup. A single actor/athlete uses well-honed skills to both re-tell and lampoon Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, The Seven Samurai, in which good prevails over evil but at great cost to both losers and winners.
The seriously talented solo performer is David Gaines, a small, slightly graying, compactly built man who combines the balance and grace of a ballet dancer with the rubber-jointed agility of a master tumbler and the strength, stamina and lung capacity of a marathoner. He strolls on casually, bows, suddenly tenses, spins around and is off on an hour-long, headlong race through the Kurosawa masterpiece. He never stops leaping, galloping, dancing, flipping masks on and off, falling down and bouncing up again — all the while accompanying specific actions with an astonishing variety of vocal sound effects, even some dialogue in grunted Japanese (maybe that should be pseudo-nese) and an occasional well-timed punch line in pidgin English.
You know the plot: It's the same one that Hollywood remade in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven, transplanting the story from medieval Japan to 19th-century America and featuring Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach among others. Poor starving villagers are terrorized by brigands who steal their crops, kill their men, rape their women and then hover around waiting to start another cycle of terror once new crops are harvested
The desperate villagers have no money to hire protection. But they bargain food and shelter to some unemployed good guy Samurai — sort of freelance Sir Lancelots — in exchange for protection. A major battle ensues. The village and the villagers take a beating but prevail.
Gaines has studied, performed and taught miming and clowning for years, even taught in a mime academy in Paris. But, hark, folks, this is not the dreary, self-focused drivel mimes usually get off on: No peeling invisible bananas or running into invisible walls. This is mimetic acting melded with sound and get-down clowning to simultaneously tell Kurosawa’s tale and kid the pants off of it.
Using hands, face, expression, gesture, a little makeup, two masks and enormous ingenuity, Gaines introduces individual peasants (men, women, even a thumb-sucking baby). He delineates a black-hearted brigand leader in a red-striped mask and differentiates neatly among his seven Samurai: the casual guy, the vain show-off, the white-masked leader dripping irony, the sleeper who goes from dream state to swords slashing in zero seconds, the doofus and the others.
Teaching one of the peasants to pull a bow and fire an arrow is hysterically funny, plus you’ll think you see the arrow fly across the stage. Teaching the peasants how to dig a trap is hilarious and demonstrating that the hole is several hundred feet deep is even more so.
Let me mention only a few more of the 1,000 illustrative details Gaines inserts to bring the story to life. A wind comes up. He shows us that with a tiny detail from the movie, a shot in which a hanging sign creeks as it swings back and forth. He shows one fighter sharpening the edges of his hands on a grinding wheel, complete with eerie vocal sound effects. When a Samurai hammers on the locked gates of the village, I’m positive I saw the carvings in the wood. Gaines is just that good. And that funny.
In a pre-Fringe interview Gaines said, “Imagine mime that isn’t pretentious and clowning that isn’t childish.” Man, did he get that right.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
A 50 minute, one-man version of The Seven Samurai, 7 (x1) Samurai is a tour de force of movement. See it.
This is one of the top shows of the festival.
The single performer has the kind of motion and movement skills that you normally only see in performers like Jim Carey. (Thanks to Claire for pointing that one out--it helps me avoid using the M word, which I fear will stop people from seeing it.
I have to say I would have enjoyed it more if I had seen the movie more recently. But it's easily one of the best shows of Fringe.
Did I tell you to see it? Yeah? Good.
October 20th, 2008 by Leslie Weisman
7(x1) Samurai: An epic tale … told by an idiot
written and performed by David Gaines
directed by David Gaines
produced by City Artistic Partnerships
reviewed by Leslie Weisman
There’s been an astonishing crop of one-man shows here lately, from Rick Miller’s MacHomer at Warehouse, to Josh Kornbluth’s Citizen Josh at Arena Stage, to Scott Renz’s Abe Lincoln at Cole Studio. Perhaps the daddy of them all was Mike Daisy’s If You See Something, Say Something, a Fringe favorite this past summer that later played to sold-out audiences at Woolly Mammoth. But Fringe-goers had another pick in mind when they voted for Best Solo Performance of Fringe Fest 2008: David Gaines’s riveting 7(x1) Samurai, a pantomimic twist on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 cinematic masterpiece, The Seven Samurai.
Those who saw previous incarnations of Gaines’s show may be surprised at subtle changes in costume and makeup. Unlike the white-faced, red-nosed, kabuki-like visage of the publicity shot, Gaines, slight of build, his fair hair sumo-styled, greets us quietly, beginning what will be a whirlwind, chop-chop, slice-and-dice tour through the villages and villagers visited - and ravaged - by brigands, and defended by the seven samurai. All of which will be played by the matchless Mr. Gaines.
Every single sound and movement is choreographed and articulated by the remarkably versatile actor. Whether whisking out his white, black-and-red-detailed kabuki mask (even after watching him do it repeatedly, I still never got a bead on where he was hiding it), or vocalizing with exquisite precision and sibilance the whoosh of a sword, the cre-e-e-e-a-a-a-k of an opening door, or the violent backward thrust of a woman’s head, responding to a savage slap - both of which he portrays in lightning-swift alternation - Gaines brings to each of his many roles an uncanny verisimilitude that verges on the mystical.
That is not to say that the show is by any means without humor. In fact, that is one of its salient graces: at one point, one of our feared and powerful samurai is repeatedly confounded by the simplest of chores, grunting with childlike puzzlement at a door whose sign bids him enter but stubbornly fails to open. Another attempts to teach a timid elderly village woman to shoot an arrow, encouraging her gruffly as she repeatedly, doubtfully demurs, only to at last let fly with unexpected abandon. A brigand imperiously thrusts his sword into his holster, only to find that he missed. Ouch.
And then there are those places that are a mix, where you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry, scream, or retch: the thumb-sucking toddler (again Gaines), retreating in fear before the sword-wielding, mask-wearing samurai, who sweeps his blade cleanly across the shoulders of a half-dozen brigands. And here again Gaines gives us, with faultless precision, the chillingly unmistakable “plop, plop, plop” of each head as it drops to the ground. The final battle, involving a cast of hundreds - all of them played, of course, by one single, solitary man - is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I’m tempted to say that if you don’t go to see it, heads will roll. But they will, of course - even if you do.
Running Time: 1:15 (no intermission)
Seven Makes One
An Arlington man distills a Japanese movie down to a frenetic one-man show.
AKIRA KUROSAWA’S classic 1954 film “The Seven Samurai” is an epic tale of courage and revenge that features a cast of hundreds. Now Arlington resident David Gaines is bringing this story to the stage in his new one-man show “7(x1) Samurai.” Yes, you read that correctly: one-man show.
Gaines retells Kurosawa’s story using nothing but traditional Japanese clothing, two Samurai masks and lots and lots of voice effects. The result is a spellbinding performance that more resembles a live-action cartoon than the classic piece of cinema it lampoons.
“It was amazing how he could portray so many people and you could tell them apart,” said John Copes, a member of the audience for one of Gaines’ recent performances. “It was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve ever seen.”
GAINES is a veteran actor who hails from Falls Church but now lives in Arlington’s Penrose Neighborhood. After graduating from Jeb Stuart High School in the early 1970s, he studied with the legendary mime Jacques Lecoq in Paris and formed his own company of mimes that toured internationally for ten years.
While studying in France in the 70s, Gaines was assigned a task to tell the entire story of a movie using no dialogue. The movie he chose was “The Seven Samurai,” the story of a desperate, 17th century Japanese village that recruits seven outlaw samurai to protect them from barbaric invaders.
“If you never grew beyond the level of an emotional adolescent boy, it’s got everything you could want,” Gaines said of the film, which was later remade by John Sturges into the western “The Magnificent Seven.”
But, more importantly, the film has a great story, he said. “Emotionally, it’s really strong: Sympathetic people get crapped on by bad guys, they go get someone to help them defend themselves. It’s basically the story that every kid in school knows: you get picked on by the bully and you hope that there is someone who can protect you from the bully.”
GAINES originally wrote the piece for three actors. But after his company disbanded in the late 80s, he abandoned it. Then, many years later when he was teaching acting in Maine, Gaines’ students encouraged him to try and go it alone.
“I got up and gave it a try and I managed to get through the first ten minutes before I had to give up for exhaustion,” Gaines said. “I thought, ‘If I get my stamina up, this could be possible.’”
And “7(x1) Samurai,” which premiered at the recent Capital Fringe Festival, requires all the stamina that he can muster. Gaines is alone on stage throughout the entire, hour-long performance. He uses a minimal amount of words, instead communicating in incredibly expressive voice effects straight out of the Wile E. Coyote School of Acting.
The sound of running horses becomes “bobbity bobbity bobbity.” When a clumsy samurai has a mishap in unsheathing his katana, Gaines lets out a loud “sproing!” “Most of the stylistic references in this are to … Warner Brothers cartoons; Roadrunner, Daffy Duck, that kind of thing,” he said.
The result is a frenetic feat of creativity and storytelling. “He’s super-talented,” Hy Ludmer, another audience member at a recent showing, said. “I was disappointed when I heard it was by a mime but this was like no mime I’ve ever seen before. He brought it all to life.”
7 (x1) Samurai (Theatre on the Square mainstage) There was a family in line behind me waiting to get into this show. That reminded me that not all the acts in the Fringe are kid-friendly -- some are very not so. But this is one for all ages. David Gaines, a master of clowning, mime and mask, has taken the Akira Kurosawa epic and boiled it down to less than an hour, acting out the story with a style that resembles a blend of Charlie Chaplin and Looney Tunes. I know my description doesn't do it justice; just remember that if you are attending the festival, this is one show you've got to make an effort to see.
At first blush the idea of condensing Akira Kurosawa’s epic, Seven Samurai, into an all but wordless one-man show with a run time of less than an hour might sound like a parlor stunt. But David Gaines, a master clown, actually makes it work, turning what could be a gimmick into a small miracle of imagination. Gaines evokes a cast of hundreds -- samurai, villagers, brigands -- in ways that are vivid, hilarious and amazingly comprehensible throughout. The result is part Chaplin, part Looney Tunes and more than a little Cirque de Soleil. Clowning, in other words, of a high order. Watching Gaines you understand why people started calling certain kinds of performances “plays.”
July 22, 2008
Hey, David Gaines! It's not you, Baby. It's me.
Gaines is the gifted mime and movement artist who reduces Akira Kurosawa's epic 1954 masterpiece The Seven Samurai to 45 minutes and a cast of one in 7 (x1) Samurai. He is by any standard an estimable man with a list of credits longer than Toshiro Mifune's katana. He evokes distinct characters using only his body and his voice (though he utters but a single English word, preferring the Samurai tongue of grunts and growls) and his recounting of the story of the first, and probably still greatest, "assembling a team of roughnecks to perform an impossible mission" movie is lucid and efficient.
No small thing, this. It requires keen powers of observation. Unflagging stamina. Laserlike precision. Split-second timing. Etc.
I just don't get it.
To be fair, the house I saw 7 (x1) Samuari in was packed to the gills, laughed throughout the performance, and gave Gaines a standing ovation when it was over. So your mileage may vary. But to me, turning a 203-minute epic adventure film into a 45-minute nonverbal one-man comedy show, while an impressive feat of something or other, seems kind of pointless, like learning to play the violin with your teeth. (Totally worth doing if you don't have hands.) If this were 10 minutes long, I'd love it 10 times as much.
It's not that I don't savor the oft-devalued art of physical comedy -- when it's presented in an engaging context, and it's attempting to do more than simply remind me of one of the greatest films ever made -- I love it. And theatrical adaptations of Kurosawa have let me down before, so factor that in, too.
It's not Gaines's fault that the Fringe politburo put his show in the airless, miserable convection oven that is The Shop at Fort Fringe. Gaines looked to be performing in at least two layers of clothing, so once again: Respect. This is the kind of thing I might actually stop to watch for a few minutes if I came across it on a street corner. But sitting in the darkness, trying to pay rapt attention while sweating through my clothes? My discipline as an audience member can't approach Gaines's as a performer. I'll stick to my Criterion DVD edition of The Seven Samurai, thanks.
7 (x1) Samurai will be performed Thursday, July 24 at 10 p.m.; Saturday, July 26 at 1 p.m.; and Sunday, July 27 at 7 p.m at The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave. NW. The performance runs approximately 45 minutes. Wear as little as possible.
He's not just going through the motions: David Gaines in his 45-minute sendup of Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai." (By Aude Guerrucci)
- The Washington Post
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 25, 2008; Page C06
Anyone who scoffs that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds has obviously
never attended a fringe festival. The most maddening aspect of such affairs
can be the radically fluctuating quality. Simply consider, to begin with, the
gap in polish between two martial-themed offerings in this year's Capital Fringe
lineup: "7 (x 1) Samurai" and "The Girl in the Iron Mask."
The former is David Gaines's wily one-man spoof of Akira Kurosawa's movie "Seven Samurai" -- and it qualifies as a find. Dressed in a black kimono, his face painted white, the writer-performer scurries through a madcap, prop-free, almost wordless 45-minute version of the film, distinguishing between characters while lampooning them all, and supplying innumerable whizzing, thwacking sound effects.
Gaines is trained in mime, and he suggests settings, weaponry and other narrative essentials with the odd arm or hand movement, while his taut comic timing wrings humor from the skirmishes between warriors, bandits and peasants. For the most part, the production, at the Shop at Fort Fringe, is clear and droll enough to entertain viewers who haven't brushed up on their Kurosawa.
- The Washington Post
David Gaines’ solo clown adaptation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is absolutely a virtuosic performance – the Lecoq grad/faculty member approaches this barrage of giddy pantomime, self-inflicted slapstick, and broad (plausibly offensive, though that’s truly beside the point) caricature with a discipline and physical precision worthy of a true samurai warrior. Nuttiness notwithstanding, the piece demands a nearly comparable level of focus from the audience: Sticking with the narrative through Gaines’ gesticulations and quasi-verbal mutterings requires considerable attention (familiarity with the source material is only dubiously helpful), making this a show best suited for those who are truly serious about their humor.
Week one of the Capital Fringe Festival has come to a close, and we’ve reviewed 35 shows and counting on the Fringe & Purge blog. There have been some gems, but there has also been some, well, crap. As you head into a weekend packed with more theater than the frickin’ City Dionysia, here’s a smattering of the best and worst Fringe offerings we’ve seen thus far:
Trey Graham says:
See it if: You grok that, far from being an outdated discipline to sneer at, the rich nonverbal language that is mime informs contemporary entertainments from Broadway’s Lion King to Pixar’s Wall-E.
Skip it if: You’ve got better things to do than be charmed by a witty concept and a first-rate performer.
David Gaines is the hardest working performer at the Fringe.Zippy Says:
Purchase your tickets in advance, bring cold water with you, and plan on using your program as a fan because this wonderful venue is selling out regularly (SRO as well) and it hasn’t got much air conditioning. All physical discomforts, however, melted away when David Gaines took the stage and began his wonderful performance. See it!Brian Reed Says:
Mr. Gaines lives up to all (very high) expectations in this feat of stamina and imagination. It’s just him and the stage, and he leaves it all out there. I can’t help but picture him practicing this thing over and over in his living room, bumping into the coffee table, stubbing his toe on the ottoman, breaking a vase or two. Whatever decorative casualties may have occurred, they were well worth it. This is spectacular.TD Says:
Most theatre is about people doing things that are, in themselves, not that amazing. The art comes from the coordination of the whole range of un-impressive elements: turning on and off the lights in a pretty way, organizing the speeches to make a story, reading the lines to make a character. Mr. Gaines’ work is something altogether different. It’s a man walking into a room, it could be any room, and making it light up, disappear, and change shape all by himself. This is virtuoso performance above and beyond anything I’ve seen in years, at the fringe or anywhere else.
- Patrick Hackett - age 14