'Seven Stages': excessive nudity is production's chief weakness


The title "Seven Stages" refers to a medieval Sufi belief in the stages of spiritual development leading to enlightenment.

But unless you know that going in, you probably won't figure it out watching this relatively unenlightened piece, which was conceived and directed by Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, produced by the Towson State University theater department and is being presented at the Theatre Project.

The hour-long work is divided into disparate halves. The first -- and less successful of the two -- is based on the writings of a 13th century Sufi poet named Jalalu'ddin Rumi and a 20th century poetry cycle by a female writer, Forough Farrakhzad.

Maybe it's the translation, but much of the text sounds mundane at best -- a case in point is the poem about the shepherd who addresses the Deity by saying, "I want to wash your hair and pick the lice off."

Despite its literary foundation, the first half is largely movement-based. But the movement is rarely inspired; much of it looks like a throwback to a '60s love-in.

At the start of the production, the performers -- five women and a man -- are swathed in fabric and posed like living statues; they look like Greek sculptures, although a quote in the program suggests they're supposed to resemble mummies. One by one, they come to life, speaking a hodgepodge of foreign languages that eventually gives way to English. There's also a considerable amount of choral speaking, which could stand more rehearsal.

The piece's chief weakness, however, is the excessive use of nudity. Even accounting for the apparent theme -- the relationship between physical and spiritual love -- the nudity is distracting.

At the risk of sounding like a prude, it's a relief when the actors get fully dressed in the second half, during which they deliver a series of monologues in the guise of various archetypal 1990s characters.

Most of the characters seem consumed by fear. Among the more accomplished portrayals are Raine Bode as a funny but bitter alcoholic professor, Lydia D'Wynter as a depressed rock star and Brandon Welch as a Xerox repairman on a dinner date.

What does the first half have to do with the second? Well, only one of the six characters appears to achieve enlightenment; other than that, it's difficult to say.

At the end of August, "Seven Stages," which is presented in cooperation with Towson State's Maryland Arts Festival, will travel to the Edinburgh Theatre Festival. The production will probably be more polished by then, but it's a shame that such noteworthy Maryland institutions won't be represented by a more coherent, cohesive artistic statement.

'Seven Stages'

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through July 28.

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $12.

Call: 752-8558.

* 1/2

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