A tale told by an idiot... epically.
7 (x1) Samurai
KC Fringe Festival
It was with some trepidation, I must admit, that I walked into the City Stage at Union Station. The Seven Samurai is a classic: next to Rashomon it may very well be my favorite Kurosawa film ever. And now I was to watch a one-man version, heavily abbreviated, by a clown, no less. A clown! One who went around performing for sick children, as if they didn't suffer enough! This was going to be a rough ride, I just knew it.
Sometimes, it's good to be wrong.
David Gaines, it turns out, is an incredible comic actor. The man has decades of clown, mime and mask work behind him, and it shows. With nothing more than his face and a couple of masks, he took us through the story of the village which, terrorized by bandits, sent forth for samurai to defend them. It is easily the most gut-bustingly hilarious thing I have seen all fringe, and I doubt very much anyone will top it before the week is out. Mr Gaines had the entire audience--yours truly included--in the palm of his hand form the moment he stepped onto the stage til the moment he walked off quietly into the sunset.
There is one thing, however, I must address. Around about the middle of the performance, an audience member launched himself out of the his seat and stormed out, calling out "This is racist!" over his shoulder as he went. Gaines took it in stride and carried on, but it did put a bit of a hitch into the proceedings. Now, I can see where the young man was coming from: it was a highly stylized version of a great Japanese classic, performed by a white man, mugging and speaking in the sort of pseudo-Japanese comedians have been using for decades (John Belushi's samurai--himself modeled on Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune--comes swiftly to mind). Is this in itself, racist? Not being Asian or of Asian descent, it is not my place to say; I always maintain that prejudice is in the eye of the recipient, so to speak. But it seems to me that it all boils down to context: he does not seem to be leaning on stereotypes, or demeaning the Japanese people or culture. Whether someone else might!
feel differently is up to them.
In any case, David Gaines is a tremendous performer, and did an absolutely stunning job performing the story. It was occasionally difficult to keep the various characters apart--perhaps a few more masks might be in order?--but for the most part this was really not an issue. It was particularly gratifying to see several children in the audience, who howled with laughter along with the rest of us (yes, the show is perfectly appropriate for all ages). Dare I dream some day they may take up the source material for themselves? And this may be their gateway into the works of one of the greatest directors of all time? Well, I can dream. In the meantime, in a schedule crowded with shows, this is one one I want to catch again if I possibly can.