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‘Seven Against Thebes’ goes hip-hop in Dallas

The Seven

• Through Sunday

• Southern Methodist University, Owens Fine Arts Building, Greer Garson Theatre, 6101 Bishop Blvd., Dallas

• $10-$13

• 214-768-2787; www.smu.edu/meadows

Posted 3:43pm on Thursday, Dec. 05, 2013

Greek tragedy, with its rhythms, choruses and hard-fought lessons, seems tailored to be remade as hip-hop theater. It definitely works for Will Power’s 2006 play The Seven, currently being performed at Southern Methodist University under the direction of Tre Garrett, artistic director of Fort Worth’s Jubilee Theatre.

Based on Seven Against Thebes, the only extant work in Aeschylus’ trilogy around the Oedipus myth, Power’s version flips the story and jettisons the ending with Antigone and Ismene.

The original deals with Oedipus’ two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, who were to rule after Oedipus blinded himself after discovering the truth of his relationship with Jocasta. The brothers decided to alternate years as ruler, with Eteolcles, the older, going first. Turns out, with the city-state set-up and constant invaders, that was a bad idea. So when Eteolcles decides not to give up the throne after his year, Polynices gathers an army of seven to overthrow his brother.

Power sets it up with a DJ (Chinyere Lee Oputa), who instead of throwing music samples into her set, announces her mix will be of the Aeschylus play. Oedipus (William Sinclair Moore) is pimp-daddied out in an orange suit with fur collar; most of the Thebans are in street clothes with some reference to Greek costuming, via draping and jewelry/medallions (costumes by Amanda Capshaw).

Eteocles (McClendon “Mickey” Giles) is flanked by his right-hand man, called RT Hand (Bailee Rayle); and Polynices (Josh Porter) by war hero Tydeus (Dylan Bare), his lover in this version. In the second act, when the team of attackers is assembled, it happens as if introducing gladiators, each wildly imagined as if characters at a krumping competition — although the martial arts-heavy battle is intensely and beautifully choreographed by fight director Jeff Colangelo, and well executed by the cast, especially the final fight between the brothers.

As the DJ, Oputa gets to play a chorus role of sorts, filling in on the action with wit; after the voice of Aeschylus in the prologue, she quips “he’s kind of pessimistic.” Giles relishes this take on a bombastic Oedipus, a sunglasses-wearing instigator who knows the curse of his family isn’t going to end with him.

Garrett, who’s been on a roll with his work in Dallas — his production of A Raisin in the Sun at Dallas Theater Center was a highlight of the year — shows that he can take great care with student performers, and lives up to Power’s vision of showing that this ancient play speaks loudly of politics and power-dynamics in contemporary America.

As a hip-hop fable, it’s funny, pompous, profane and tragic. Power has been working in Dallas since 2010, when he won SMU’s Meadows Prize and then became an artist-in-residence there. He’s also the playwright-in-residence at Dallas Theater Center, and work from him should be seen in the coming seasons. Hopefully, Garrett will be attached to it as well.

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