THEATER | Live Action Set's "7-Shot Symphony" weaves a magic spell

Video by Live Action Set

So here's the recipe for The 7-Shot Symphony. Take equal parts of the following legends and mythologies: Japanese, Norse, Greek, West African/Caribbean, and Middle Eastern; layer on an overlay of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns; add a live country/western soundtrack from the group "Tree Party," but no set or props. Just seven actors and a liberal helping of costume pieces. It could be hopelessly pretentious. It could just be an unfocused mess. Turns out it's neither. It's just a hell of a lot of fun.

I can tell you the exact moment The 7-Shot Symphony completely bewitched me. Oh, it had been slowly reeling me in all night long, but the moment I knew I was gone was when Eurydice started singing along with Orpheus. Eurydice (Jenna Wyse), in this Wild West retelling, is a mail-order bride, ordered up by pioneer and part-time saloon musician Orpheus (Joey Ford). They don't speak each other's language, but the kindness of Orpheus slowly begins to win Eurydice over, even though she doesn't understand a word he's saying. She does an awkward but adorable little dance when he tries out for his first saloon gig, and they both win over the rowdy bar crowd in short order. But Eurydice is kidnapped by the denizens of the Underworld Saloon in a neighboring town, and Orpheus treks across the desert to rescue her. Once there, he is forced to sing for the proprietor of the Underworld Saloon, Hades (Matt Riggs), and his lady friend Persephone (Emily King). Orpheus begins to sing. Then, even though the lyrics are a mystery to her, Eurydice begins to make sounds to harmonize and sing along. They're completely in love, connected through music, and even though there are a bunch of criminals watching them, they're the only people in the world to one another. It's beautiful and sweet and heartbreaking.

the 7-shot symphony, presented at the loring theater through march 27. for tickets ($10-$25) and information, see vendini.com.

The 7-Shot Symphony, the latest production from Live Action Set (with a liberal helping of artists from the Four Humors company), currently running at the Loring Theater, is full of tiny moments of wonder like that, each different from the ones that came before. Some are funny, some scary, some full of a rousing sense of adventure. The actors and the band provide all the required sound effects. Members of the ensemble transform themselves into vast stretches of open plains, a stagecoach, or a random tumbleweed rolling through the middle of a shootout in the center of town. They provide a variety of different points of view: carefully framed closeups of a pair of eyes or a gun; an endless landscape across which two fingers gallop and over which an open hand becomes a sunrise. The actors use a standard finger pantomime for handguns, which should be ridiculous, but they're all so committed to this imaginary world that you finally can't resist buying into it. Finger pistols. I honestly don't know how they manage to get away with it, but they do.

Something else that has no business working, but ends up working brilliantly, is the strange goulash of half a dozen different sets of cultural reference points all mixed together in a single stew. Masamune (Emily King), the legendary Japanese swordsmith, alongside Orpheus and Eurydice? Gilgamesh (Damian Johnson) and his sidekick Enkidu (Dustin Suggs) crossing paths with Odin (Joey Ford)? Anansi the trickster spider (Mark Benzel) wandering through the same landscape as Hades? It should seem forced or wrong somehow. Yet, because all these epic characters get filtered through archetypes of Western films, it all, oddly, fits. There's a wink here and a nod there, but it never degenerates into being silly or campy. A lot of credit has to go to the actors, who are incredibly committed to the reality of this world, and whose attention to detail extends beyond the dialogue to the sound and physical elements of both their characters and the environment surrounding them. After all, the world only exists because the audience takes the cues the actors offer, and our collective imagination paints the larger picture. All of the actors pull duty as multiple characters and often narrate as well. Director Ryan Underbakke guides his ensemble well and keeps the tone and delivery consistent throughout.

Underbakke is also co-writer, with Matt Spring, of the script, which also deserves a large share of the credit for pulling together all the disparate elements of the various mythologies. All the plot threads feed one another beautifully. Perhaps the smartest example of this narrative consistency is the revelation in the midst of the Gilgamesh epic is the origin of the Hades character, who has been hovering around the edges of all the stories, stepping in at key moments. Hades is also central to the beginning and ending of the play. The seeds of a very satisfying conclusion to the evening are present in its opening moments. There's a lot to admire about the script. The 7-Shot Symphony is one of the few places where fun lines like...

"There was a tree. There was a rope. There was a one-eyed man."

"It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there."

...don't seem at all out of place. And you don't need to know a thing about any of the mythology going in. It's almost better if you don't. But there's some handy easily digestible synopses in the program to get you started if you wish. The production is low-brow and high-brow at the same time, completely accessible to anyone.

I always go to Live Action Set productions with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I've missed as many of their shows as I've seen at this point, but we've been together since the very beginning of my theater blogging days. They were my first Fringe review back in 2003, back before they even had a name. They can be brilliant (The Piano Tuner, Please Don't Blow Up Mr. Boban) and they can be confounding (My Father's Bookshelf, Deviants). They're an impossible company to hate, but they're sometimes a hard company to love. Thankfully, with The 7-Shot Symphony, they make it easy to just give in to the infatuation this time. Very highly recommended.

1407 Nicollet Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55403
612-874-1100

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    Matthew A. Everett's picture
    Matthew A. Everett

    Matthew A. Everett is the playwright in residence for Workhouse Theatre Company, helping with their new play development program The Greenhouse Project and its monthly play reading series the second Tuesday of every month.  June 10's reading is Deborah Yarchun's comedy-drama LARPers.

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    A lotta LAS

    This long show will be a blessed rain of manna from heaven for fans of Live Action Set's trademark physical theater; the audience I saw the show with on Monday clearly adored it and leapt to their feet for an ovation. I agree with Matthew that there's a lot to like here, though I'm not convinced that this style of theater is as well-suited to the epic as it is to smaller, more intimate shows like Ballad of the Pale Fisherman.