BOTTOM LINE: If you can get a ticket, go.
Yehuda Hyman is a charming man. He's approachable, he's small (by his own admission), he's fun; generally he's the kind of animated gay uncle that every Jewish family is thrilled to have.
More importantly however, he's a virtuosic, detailed, and charismatic performer and a dedicated, brilliant, and loving writer who has spent 18 years tracing the dense, multi-layered, ecstatic theology of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's 19th-century tale "The Seven Beggars." He's turned that search into a moving, intricately constructed, and heart-lifting two hours of theatre that frankly, everyone with a soul and a heartbeat should see.
Hyman's play tells us the story of Elliot, a simple office worker who is unexpectedly beset by an onslaught of mystical experience at the hands of a motley crew of seven handicapped street folk. As he follows their increasingly bizarre commands, he travels ever closer to the heart of a recurring dream he's had of meeting the Woman, a figure who becomes a sort of personal god. At the same time, he is beset by the harsh doubts and taunts of The Evil One, a suit-and-tie wearing figure who haunts his dreams and travels, belittling him into turning away from the new light he's found.
Yes, it's a lot of stuff, but that's what is so exciting about the show. Hyman and his able director Mara Isaacs bring it all to vibrant life with the simplest and most elegant theatricality. The stage is almost bare, save for a backdrop of worn parchment papers (which doubles as a remarkably effective projection screen) and a battered suitcase (which ingeniously hides wonders of prop magic). Hyman wears slacks and a striped shirt. The lighting is basic.
The show really lives in Hyman's body - in the delicate movement of his fingers while he dances, in the rapturous transformation of his voice as he joyfully takes on new characters, in the light which infuses his face as makes a point. What we are seeing is the best part of Yehuda Hyman, offered with gladness and skill and kindness.
Parsing Hasidic folklore takes years of study in the dusty halls of religious libraries. It's not the kind of work most of us would ever want to do. But Hyman has done that hard work for us; he's gone deep into the innermost recesses of both the worn books and his own personal journey. And he's come back to offer us the essence of his experience: the world is a joy, the least among us can be the most beautiful, and we're just waiting for someone to tell us the story that will set us alight.
I feel bad mucking up his work with all these high-fallutin' words. It's just so much simpler than all that. I'm going back with my 9-year old. He'll love it. I'm telling you, just go.
(The Mad 7 - A Mystical Comedy with Ecstatic Dance plays at 4th Street Theater, 83 East 4th Street, through August 29th. The remaining performances are Saturday 8/21 at 6:15pm, Friday 8/27 at 2pm, and Sunday 8/29 at 1:45pm. For more information visit www.themad7.com. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)