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The Seven Year Disappear

A world premiere play about a performance artist in the form of a performance piece in this two-hander which also satirizes the art world.

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Taylor Trensch and Cynthia Nixon in a scene from The New Group’s production of Jordan Seavey’s “The Seven Year Disappear” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

Jason Seavey’s The Seven Year Disappear is a play about a performance artist in the form of a performance piece in this two-hander which also satirizes the art world. The play which brings Cynthia Nixon back to the New York stage after an absence of eight years has her playing eight roles in a tour de force performance. However, the play is both challenging and confusing, not telling us everything we want to know and keeping some secrets for the very end. Designed mostly in black and white by set designer Derek McLane and costume designer Qween Jean, the play looks like an independent or art movie.

Miriam, a world-famous performance artist and a rival to the more successful Marina Abramović, has disappeared for seven years without a word to her son and manager Naphtali, or anyone else as far as he can tell, on the eve of the announcement of a commission from the Museum of Modern Art. She returns in 2016 ready to take up the commission but without any explanation of where she has been. Naphtali has had to make a new career in politics working for the Hillary Clinton campaign in order to support himself as his mother’s accounts had been frozen while she was missing. She assumes that Naphtali will join her in the performance, but he says he will only do it if he gets an apology from her.

Taylor Trensch and Cynthia Nixon in a scene from The New Group’s production of Jordan Seavey’s “The Seven Year Disappear” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Aside from the four confrontations between mother and son on November 25, 2016, the play moves in reverse chronology from 2016 to 2009, the year Miriam disappeared, with a coda set in an earlier year. Playing all of the people that Naphtali interacts with during this time, Nixon plays both men and women: art dealer Wolfgang, (her former manager and ex-lover, a father figure to Naphtali), curator Brayden at MOMA, Naphtali’s political colleague and sometime lover Tomás, manicurist Kaitlyn, actress friend Aviva, party host Michael, and private detective Nicole. Ironically as they are all played by Nixon it is though Naphtali in seeking his mother sees her everywhere he looks.

The key to the play may be in a throwaway stage direction in the penultimate scene in the printed script: “Perhaps we realize we’re at MOMA – and have been the whole time.” In other words, we are seeing the finished performance piece that Miriam has created which has used Naphtali all along. Not all theatergoers will cotton to this turn of events as it is rather subtle and disguised except that the final scene is set in 1990 when Naphtali would have been four and unable to read from his mother’s script.

Cynthia Nixon and Taylor Trensch in a scene from The New Group’s production of Jordan Seavey’s “The Seven Year Disappear” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

While Nixon is commanding in all of her scenes, director Scott Elliott has staged the confrontations between Miriam and Naphtali at a fever pitch with much ranting and all the other scenes at a cool temperature. This gives the play no climax and nowhere to go. Seavey’s play is sophisticated and satiric but the complicated structure seems self-defeating. Aside from the satire of performance artist Abramović’s “Seven Easy Pieces,” the play includes references to gallerist David Zwirner, painter Max Ernst, the annual Art Basel festival, and the performance art departments of such museums as The Whitney, Guggenheim and MOMA.

Nixon uses a different accent for each of her eight characters. However, her androgynous haircut makes them all look the same. This may be intentional to suggest that in her performance piece she is recreating them all. Both she and Taylor Trensch as Napthali are dressed identically in Jean’s black coveralls and combat boots also making them look both alike and looking like stage crew. Trensch holds his own up against Nixon’s bravura performances as eight characters, particularly commanding and forceful as his mother. McLane’s all black set design is complemented by John Narun’s projection design which posts the date and location as well as often shows the action in live or taped video feeds giving the play an otherworldly feel. Jeff Croiter’s remarkable lighting highlights the actors while often leaving the rest of the stage in darkness.

Cynthia Nixon and Taylor Trensch in a scene from The New Group’s production of Jordan Seavey’s “The Seven Year Disappear” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

While The Seven Year Disappear may challenge and confuse many theatergoers, people used to performance art may get the in-jokes. Jordan Seavey whose play Homos, or Everyone in America was seen in 2016 in the Labyrinth Theater Company at the Bank Street Theater is a sophisticated, seasoned playwright and he and director Scott Elliott make no concessions to their audience. The Seven Year Disappear may be most appreciated by devotees of experimental theater but it does make one hungry for Seavey’s next play.

The Seven Year Disappear (extended through March 31, 2024)

The New Group

The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.thenewgroup.org

Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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