Theater

'7 (x 1) Samurai': David Gaines Skewers Skillfully

David Gaines is reviving his mime-based act from this year's Capital Fringe Festival.
David Gaines is reviving his mime-based act from this year's Capital Fringe Festival. (By Susan Thompson-gaines)
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By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

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!"

7 (x 1) Samurai: An Epic Tale . . . Told by an Idiot, created and performed by David Gaines. Produced by Matty Griffiths; mask design, David Knezz. About one hour. Through Nov. 2 at the Warehouse Theater mainstage, 1017 Seventh St. NW. Call 202-213-2474 or visit http://cityartisticpartnerships.org.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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