The knife strikes down again and again and again. The squelch it makes in the victim’s body is sickening. The guttural shrieks coming from what used to be a man raise the hair on the back of my neck. The woman’s gratified moans are repulsive. The anguished screams quiet and the lights slowly fade into blackness. We are in Hell.
“Into the eternal darkness, into fire and into ice.” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
Force of Nature Productions‘ 7 is part of their RUSH series, “and original plays festival that takes place over the span of three weeks (from conception to performance) surrounding a selected theme.” 7‘s theme was the seven deadly sins: Wrath, Envy, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Greed, and Gluttony. For each ten-minute short, a separate writer, director, and cast interpreted a different sin. Then these seven segments were put together in one 80-minute, conventional black-box production for a limited, three-night run. With the time constraints placed on the participants, the individual segments understandably varied both in performance quality and in the incorporation of the highlighted sin. Here’s my take on the three best investigations of depravity.
“Come on, shake off the covers of this sloth, for sitting softly cushioned, or tucked in bed, is no way to win fame.”
– Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy 7
Through inactivity, one invites sin. Tyler Bianchi’s Catatonic finds the villain of the piece in a coma. A rapist and murderer (Adam Shows) refuses to awaken lest he be tried and found guilty of his crimes. In his idle mind, he thinks he will find safety and solitude, but his mind is no longer his own. Now possessed by his demons incarnate – a former victim (Makenna Rae Tynan) and his abusive parents (Elizabeth Dorsey and Tom Jones) – his empty, unconscious mind has paved the way for his sins to return, filling the void with emotional devastation. He opened the door for his own torment in a voluntary coma from which he ultimately will not wake.
“To this torment are condemned the carnal damned. Those for whom desire conquered reason.” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
Easily the best of the bunch, Michael Knowlan’s Ante Up explores a woman’s (a powerful Susan D. Marlowe in a demanding role) sexual awakening, her lustful descent into murder, and her final retribution: awaiting execution on death row where she tells her story to a priest (Sebastian Muñoz). After beginning a carnal relationship with a mysterious man (Stephen Anthony Bailey), they progressively push the boundaries of their escapades – adding BDSM play, exhibitionism, and sexual positions she had “never even heard of.” When her paramour decides to break off their entanglement, the woman, fully consumed by lust, murders him instead of letting him leave. With every thrust of her knife, the woman finds even deeper sexual gratification, which leads her on a killing spree to attain more. Her lust can only be fulfilled by raising the stakes, until, finally, only her own demise will sate her.
“What these shades could not satisfy in life, in death, they shall be denied for eternity.” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
While gluttony typically refers to inordinate desire for food or drink, Emily Charouhas’s Conduit puts a different spin on the vice. A ferociously religious man, Adam (a commanding Brett Gustafson), has kidnapped his siblings (Danielle Swanson and Walter Kartman), and blames them for his poverty and exclusion from his family. However, even though Adam’s siblings have their faults (he accuses his sister of being a pill-popper), it is Adam who is the glutton – for his faith and for religious punishment. Spouting Bible verses, Adam tortures his siblings, forcing pills down his sister’s throat and threatening his brother with a knife. Adam’s excessive piety culminates in his intent to murder his siblings, though they are able to kill him first.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
7‘s mini-plays dove into their sins with creativity and seven distinct voices. Daughters torturing their father in an endless loop. Three villains forced to kill each other for a non-existent prize. A killer trapped in his mind by his past. A woman committing murder for sexual gratification. A trio of unsatisfied co-workers violently trying to outsmart one another. An evil mother seller her daughters for social status. A self-righteous man torturing his siblings. The dark places the plays went to were evocative of the Hells that Dante Alighieri so memorably delineated. 7 took an already dark septet of concepts and found a way to make them even more hopeless and grotesque. The Force of Nature artists are to be congratulated for their three-week endeavor.