A spin of the carnival wheel on the set of “The Deadly Seven: Shakespeare’s Purgatorio,” determines which of the seven deadly sins the audience experiences next.
“The Deadly Seven,” opening today as a part of the semester-long Shakespeare at Yale festival, is a medley of seven scenes and monologues from Shakespeare’s plays, performed by seven actors and each featuring one of the deadly sins. Director Alexi Sargeant ’15 came up with the idea for a play drawn from Shakespeare’s texts as his submission to last term’s Shakespeare Challenge organized by the Office of the Dean for the Arts in Yale College, which offered funding to select undergraduates with ideas for Shakespeare-related events.
The script focuses on scenes from Shakespeare in which a central character represents or provides commentary on one of the deadly sins, Sargeant said. In editing the script, he said he drew from Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies and histories, including “The Merchant of Venice;” “Henry VI, Part 3;” “Henry IV, Part 2;” “Measure for Measure;” “Richard II;” and “Antony and Cleopatra.”
Producer Derek Braverman ’15 added that the play is more of a “cohesive production” than an collection of disparate scenes. Wilfredo Ramos ’15 plays Falstaff, the likeably sinful knight from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” plays, who serves as a “Master of Ceremonies” of sorts to help transition from sin to sin.
Sargeant said that part of the appeal of the show’s format was being able to pull scenes from different plays that are not often performed. In order to avoid “treading on the shoes” of other Shakespeare at Yale productions this term, Sargeant said he turned to more obscure plays and “criminally under-read” scenes such as an monologue in which an envious Richard III covets the crown in “Henry VI, Part 3.”
“[The histories] aren’t done very often because the titles are so unfortunate. ‘Henry VI, Part 3’ is a terrible title,” Sargeant said. “The play can stand on its own, or as direct prequel to ‘Richard III’, so the numbers in the title do it a disservice.”
Other acts in the show include an “intense psychological scene” about lust and obsession from “Measure for Measure,” and a highly comedic dialogue from “Antony and Cleopatra” about Cleopatra’s romantic affairs with powerful Romans.
Sargeant added that the “creepy fairground aesthetic” of the setting connects the scenes, which span across centuries and continents.
“Everything is tied together by this very limited palette of red, black and white and [by] the fact that the same seven props reoccur in [each] scene,” Sargeant said.
While Costume Designer Marisa Kaugars ’15 described the costumes as “mostly modern with some historical references,” Sargeant said they were not designed to modernize the script as a social commentary.
“The costume choice is more about giving consistency to the show, so it doesn’t have to be leaping from 16th century England to Ancient Rome,” Sargeant said, adding that while he is not setting the scenes in the present-day, he “would never say Shakespeare is irrelevant.”
Sargeant said audience members do not have to be well-versed in Shakespeare to follow the play; the production team has worked to make sure the scenes can be understood out of context, and the program includes short blurbs about each narrative’s background.
The play does not draw its own conclusions about the seven deadly sins, but instead leaves the message up to interpretation by audience members, Sargeant said.
“In some ways we’re not imposing an interpretation on this. It’s more that we’re giving [the audience] these seven scenes, showing them ways in which they can be tied together, and then seeing what they get out of that,” Sargeant said.
“The Deadly Seven” runs through Sunday in the Pierson-Davenport Theater.