With a whole host of traditional plays and musicals available to choose from, it is sometimes refreshing when theater artists in New York City experiment with form. Creator and producer Brett Epstein’s Rule of 7x7 is just that: an experiment in playwriting wherein seven playwrights each declare a “rule” that must be incorporated into each play. These rules range from a word, a line, or a specific stage direction. To intensify the process, the artists involved have just one month to mount these short plays from conception to performance. Coupled with the budgetary limitations endemic to Off-Off-Broadway productions, the constrictions of 7x7 beget an array of short plays that are both relevant and ephemeral.
The very short time frame of this bimonthly project ensures that playwrights can draw from the timeliest material. Four of the plays in the February Edition of 7x7 deal explicitly with the current political climate. Roomtone by Alex Grubbs navigates the complications of talking politics with family in Texas; The Banned by Alessandro King takes place at an immigration protest; Donaldo Prescod’s Mike Pence: Trapped in the Closet musically interprets the tortured sexual life of our Vice President; and Layla Khosh’s Damned if You Do inspects the effects of Trump’s America on three young people caught in a love triangle. Undoubtedly, the next edition of 7x7 (in April) will continue to bear upon the issues of upcoming month. This is the greatest strength of the unique Rule of 7x7 format—that it commands a sense of urgency and relevance, whether political or personal or both.
The flip side of Rule of 7x7’s time frame is that some plays and performances will lack the polish of more rehearsed off-Broadway productions. This is an understandable symptom of lack of time and resources, and is altogether dismissible in light of the aforementioned “freshness” of the plays. After all, Rule of 7x7 is produced in conjunction with The Tank, a New York nonprofit that incubates projects by new and emerging artists with little to no access to space and other resources needed to put on a production. Some moments in the February edition of plays, however, were surprisingly well-staged. Amanda Keating’s Truth or Dare (directed by Molly Rose Clifford) featured a particularly great moment of physical comedy involving a sublimely awkward and hilarious make-out session between a teenaged Lydia (played by Rachel Lin) and Drew (played by Drew Lewis).
Another feature of the 7x7 format is that some of the rules work out better than others, depending on the play. In the February edition, Rule 3 demanded that “someone tries to “boop” someone. It is either awkward or endearing,” and Rule 5 called for “Selena (not Gomez, but can involve J.Lo as Selena.)” The extreme specificity of these particular rules causes them to lose a bit of luster by the final play. There is only so much “booping” that an audience can take. On the other hand, more flexible rules, such as Rule 4, “someone unconsciously quotes a song lyric. No one notices” are more like Easter eggs for the audience. In some plays, this rule was easy to miss; in others, one could suddenly recognize the embedded lyric, resulting in a delightful “Aha!” moment.
Of course, these variables—the wide ranges of rules, the myriad of ways to implement them in the plays, the individual successes and failures within each play—are all part of the chaotic yet endearing charm of Rule of 7x7. For folks that enjoy improv shows or other experimental theater (such as the Neo-Futurists’ Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind), Rule of 7x7 will be a welcome departure from the finished product of traditionally staged plays.
Rule of 7x7 plays bimonthly at The Tank (151 West 46th St., on the eighth floor). Tickets are $12–$13 and may be obtained at http://www.thetanknyc.org/series/ruleof/.