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A CurtainUp Review
These Seven Sicknesses

So you see Oedipus the great,/Now Oedipus the ragdoll with his eyes unsewn .— The Blind Seer
These Seven Sicknesses
Grant Harrison

(Photo credit: Laura June Kirsch)
Something bloody wonderful is currently happening at the Flea Theatre in Tribeca. It is Sean Graney’s These Seven Sicknesses, an adaptation of Sophocles’ seven surviving plays yoked into one. Theatergoers who venture to this 5- hour extravaganza will get a heaping serving of Greek drama, with dinner and dessert tossed in with the tragedies.

The particular appeal of These Seven Sicknesses is that it never becomes a soggy pudding of Greek pathos. In fact, it’s as much a communal experience as it is a theater evening. For a start, the performers greet you at the door to the theater and genially escort you to your seat. As you're glancing over your program, they will linger and answer any questions you might have about what’s about to unfold on the Flea’s narrow stage.

It would be foolish to tell you more about the seven legends than to to say that passion and suffering spin each plot. The original setting is updated to a modern hospital emergency room, and the chorus is represented by a cadre of six nurses outfitted in clinical white uniforms. This extraordinary work leaps effortlessly over the hurdles that have hobbled other Sophocles productions. While it may not have a traditional Greek drama presentation's depth but this is not minor league stuff. It’s squarely grounded in its Sophoclean drama and can bring you to the core of human suffering.

Although These Seven Sicknesses is all of a piece, it is divided into three themed acts. The opening salvo, “Honor Lost” presents “Oedipus,” “In Trachis,” and “In Colonus.” The second, “Honor Found,” focuses on Troy’s favorite sons, “Philoktetes” and “Ajax.” The final piece, “Honor Abandoned,” features Elektra and Antigone, whose Niobe-like mourning infects their lives and nails their futures shut.

This quirky rendering of Sophocles’ oeuvres may grate on the purist's ear. Indeed, early on, when Oedipus seeks answers from The Blind Seer, she spews forth more sound and fury than sense and gravitas (“Blah, blah, blah./Oh to wish to be wise,/When you know not what you want to know.”). But if These Seven Sicknesses is not always deeply articulate, it is a marvelous narrative about rulers, the body politic, and ordinary people. Peppered with riffs, arias, verbal puns, and symbolic props (like Herakles’ golden bow) that synch with the action, it’s ultimately a healing myth.

Over the course of the evening you meet many of the fiercest l of the Greek heroes and heroines: Oedipus, Ajax, Herakles, Clytemnestra, Elektra, Antigone, Creon, to name just a few. The characters who surface even include a cheeky character called “The Carrier” who rides a scooter and insinuates himself into five of the plays. Count on seeing plenty of dark and gory details: all kinds of incest, a grisly amputation, a flock of sheep slaughtered. But the continual bloodbaths didn't seem to impair anybody’s appetite for the dinner (dumplings and eggplant over rice) served by the cast at the closing of Act 1, and dessert (cupcakes and cookies) after Act 2.

There are many reasons this marathon evening works but the basic one is that you feel that Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar and the cast are truly fascinated by Greek drama, and thanks to Sean Graney have found a way to make it vitally come alive on a New York stage.


These Seven Sicknesses
Written by Sophocles
Adapted by Sean Graney
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Cast: Will Turner (Orderly), Glenna Grant (Nurse 1), Tiffany Abercrombie (New Nurse), Eloise Eonnet (Nurse 2), Marie Clare Roussel (Nurse 3), Jenelle Chu (Nurse 4), Olivia Stoker (Nurse 5), Cameran Hebb (Sick Woman), Jeff Ronan (Oedipus), Katherine Folk-Sullivan (Antigone), Stephen Stout (Creon), Holly Chou (Blind Seer), Satomi Blair (Jocasta), Tommy Crawford (Carrier), Cleo Gray (Ismene), Yoni Ben-Yehuda (Polyneices), Bobby Foley (Eteokles, Odysseus), Kate Michaud (Dejanira, Shade of Dejanira), Miles Jacoby (Hyllus), Seth Moore (Philoktetes), Liz Tancredi (Iole), Victor Joel Ortiz (Herakles, Shade of Herakles), Ugo Chukwu (Theseus), Alex Herrald (Neoptolemus), Dave Brown, Charlotte Bydwell, Alexander Cook, Ugo Dhukwu, Victoria Haynes, Miles Jacoby, Erik Olson, Liz Tancredi (Sheep), Grant Harrison (Ajax), Sean McIntyre (Agamemnon, Shade of Agamemnon), Alex Grubbs (Menelaus), Tony Vo (Eurysakes), Allison Buck (Tekmessa), Erik Olson (Orestes), Betsy Lippitt (Elektra), Charlotte Bydwell (Chrysothemis), Akyiaa Wilson (Clytemnestra), Nate Washburn ( Aegisthus), Matt Barbot (Haemon).
Sets: Julia Noulin-Merat
Costumes: Loren Shaw
Sound:Patrick Metzger
Lighting: Carl Wiemann
Fight Director: Michael Wiezer
Music Director: David Dabbon
Stage Managers: Edward Herman and Kara Kaufman
The Flea Theater, at 41 White Street 212/352-3101,
From1/19/12 Opening 1/29/12; closing 2/26/12.
Wednesday through Saturday @ 6:30pm; Sunday @ 4:30pm.
Running time:
approximately 5 hours including breaks for dinner and dessert.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/27/12
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