The long-delayed return of live theater to New York City takes another baby step forward with “Seven Deadly Sins,” a collection of new one-acts by multiple American playwrights that are performed in and around storefronts and closed-down streets in the Meatpacking District, adjacent to the Whitney Museum and the High Line.
Personally speaking, “Seven Deadly Sins” marked the first professional production of a multi-actor play I have attended since March of last year. By comparison, the socially-distanced productions I have seen in recent weeks involved prerecorded audio with no live actors (“Blindness”), walking around museum-style site installations (“A Dozen Dreams”), a follow-the-script exercise for two strangers (“A Thousand Ways”) and a modern dance piece (“Afterwardsness”).
A few months ago, the city unveiled an “Open Culture” program to allow theater groups to obtain permits to perform shows outdoors on city streets. Although “Seven Deadly Sins” (which was previously presented in Florida) is not technically an “Open Culture” production, it was made possible through the approval and cooperation of the multiple city agencies as well as neighboring businesses.
Running about one hour and 45 minutes in total, “Seven Deadly Sins” (directed by Moisés Kaufman of the Tectonic Theater Project) begins with “Purgatory,” a raunchy preshow song and monologue delivered by Shuga Cain (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”). Audience members are then divided into groups and led to different locations by tour guides.
Most of the one-acts are performed behind storefront glass, requiring audience members to listen to the actors via headphones and later applaud using jazz hands (since the actors would not be able to hear their applause).
The one-acts (each named after and inspired by a different biblical sin) are an uneven lot. Four of them are silly, sexy and slight, while the other three are dark, heavy-handed and creepy.
They include “Gluttony” by Ngozi Anyanwu (Eve and the Snake in the Garden of Eden), “Sloth” by Thomas Bradshaw (husband ignores his wife’s appeals to cut back on video games), “Pride” by MJ Kaufman (influencer’s attempt to celebrate trans pride sparks backlash), “Envy” by Jeffrey LaHoste (French princess blackmails her husband’s male lover), “Wrath” by Ming Peiffer (encounter between dominatrix and stranger sparks fury), “Lust” by Bess Wohl (pole dancer longs to murder the man who abused her), and “Greed” by Kaufman (son longs for his dead father’s expensive watch).
Cynthia Nixon is part of the cast – well, kind of. Her recorded voice serves as the stream-of-consciousness thinking of the pole dancer (Donna Carnow, who is a Brooklyn-based pole champion and aerialist) in “Lust.”
Even if the one-acts themselves are forgettable, and the glass barrier arrangement might have more necessary during an earlier point in the pandemic, “Seven Deadly Sins” (which manages to combine tour group logistics, Sunday School lessons, erotica and downtown flair) offers a stylish and cautious way to return to the theater after a lengthy absence.