‘The Seven Year Disappear’ Off Broadway Review: Cynthia Nixon Vanishes Into Several Roles

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A mock bio of the performance artist named Miriam awaits theatergoers as they enter the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Featuring Cindy Sherman-esque photos of the fictional artist, it’s a spot-on parody of the chronic self-absorption required to create such art, complete with a bit about Miriam leaving home at age 15 to travel the country via freight trains.

The bio’s photos feature the actor Cynthia Nixon dressed in a number of outfits and wigs. In one shot, she looks like a Picasso painting, in another her head appears to have been wrapped in wire by Méret Oppenheim. Viewed all together, this stylish collection of photos (by Serge Nivelle) suggests a middle-age woman undergoing an extreme cosmetic makeover. What could be more fun than one of the “Sex and the City” stars appearing in an extended riff on your favorite episode of “Botched”?

That play, however, isn’t being performed here. Instead, Nixon appears in Jordan Seavey’s “The Seven Year Disappear,” presented by the New Group, which received its world premiere Monday at the Jewel Box. To be clear, the play has nothing to do with the disappearance of facial lines and everything to do with Nixon’s remarkable vanishing act into several roles. It is, also, often hilarious in its depiction of the insular New York art world and its navel-gazing participants. Part of the delight is seeing Nixon play not only the egocentric Miriam, but a variety of other characters, a couple of which are the older men with whom her young adult son, Naphtali (Taylor Trensch), is having very wild, drug-induced sex.

Trensch plays only the one role, leaving it to Nixon to keep us guessing: what accent will she hit us with next? Miriam sounds a lot like the Miranda we know from TV, and she is pissed as hell over Maria Abramovic getting a show at the Whitney. She asks her son: which Whitney, uptown or downtown? For hardcore narcissists like Miriam, it’s all about the status, the publicity, the ego (And yes, “The Seven Year Disappear” is set a few years ago when, indeed, the Whitney boasted two museums on the island of Manhattan).

Nixon switches to a German accent to play a MOMA executive, although, who’s paying attention to what the actor sounds like when Naphtali talks about putting his hand up Wolfgang’s butt? Best of all is Nixon’s patrician accent for an HIV-positive Episcopalian priest living in Cobble Hill who gives Naphtali his first hit of G. It’s unclear whether the two characters remain conscious long enough to have sex.

If this sounds like “The Seven Year Disappear” is a series of amusingly spicy skits, you get the picture. Also flashy is Derek McLane’s sleek multi-paneled set, which allows director Scott Elliott to dress it all up with lots of pre-taped videos, projected photographs and the biggest cliché of today’s theater: several sequences are filmed live so that we don’t have to bother watching the actors, but can follow them on big screens where their faces are delivered in close-up.

The only thing that puts a damper on all the fizzy fun is Naphtali, who is the very soggy center of this drama. It is his life that Miriam has used for a number of her performance pieces, and now that he’s finally an adult, he wants her to quit or, at least, explain herself.

From Miriam’s bio in the theater lobby to her absurd conversion to Judaism (the funniest bit in the play), it’s difficult to see the character as anything but an object of ridicule. Nixon’s colorful shifting of characters only adds to the derision, which makes it difficult to switch gears to see Naphtali as a real person. The confusion forces Trensch to deliver an overly angst-ridden performance as the play progresses to its Ah-Ha conclusion, where Mommie Dearest suddenly pulls a very unconvincing about-face.

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