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Seven Makes One

An Arlington man distills a Japanese movie down to a frenetic one-man show.

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David Gaines

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David Gaines and his wife Susan Thompson-Gaines pose with the two masks he uses during his performance of “7(x1) Samurai.”

<b>AKIRA KUROSAWA’S</b> classic 1954 film “The Seven Samurai” is an epic tale of courage and revenge that features a cast of hundreds. Now Arlington resident David Gaines is bringing this story to the stage in his new one-man show “7(x1) Samurai.” Yes, you read that correctly: one-man show.

<p>Gaines retells Kurosawa’s story using nothing but traditional Japanese clothing, two Samurai masks and lots and lots of voice effects. The result is a spellbinding performance that more resembles a live-action cartoon than the classic piece of cinema it lampoons.

<p>“It was amazing how he could portray so many people and you could tell them apart,” said John Copes, a member of the audience for one of Gaines’ recent performances. “It was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve ever seen.”

<p><b>GAINES</b> is a veteran actor who hails from Falls Church but now lives in Arlington’s Penrose Neighborhood. After graduating from Jeb Stuart High School in the early 1970s, he studied with the legendary mime Jacques Lecoq in Paris and formed his own company of mimes that toured internationally for ten years.

<p>While studying in France in the 70s, Gaines was assigned a task to tell the entire story of a movie using no dialogue. The movie he chose was “The Seven Samurai,” the story of a desperate, 17th century Japanese village that recruits seven outlaw samurai to protect them from barbaric invaders.

<p>“If you never grew beyond the level of an emotional adolescent boy, it’s got everything you could want,” Gaines said of the film, which was later remade by John Sturges into the western “The Magnificent Seven.”

<p>But, more importantly, the film has a great story, he said. “Emotionally, it’s really strong: Sympathetic people get crapped on by bad guys, they go get someone to help them defend themselves. It’s basically the story that every kid in school knows: you get picked on by the bully and you hope that there is someone who can protect you from the bully.”

<p><b>GAINES</b> originally wrote the piece for three actors. But after his company disbanded in the late 80s, he abandoned it. Then, many years later when he was teaching acting in Maine, Gaines’ students encouraged him to try and go it alone.

<p>“I got up and gave it a try and I managed to get through the first ten minutes before I had to give up for exhaustion,” Gaines said. “I thought, ‘If I get my stamina up, this could be possible.’”

<p>And “7(x1) Samurai,” which premiered at the recent Capital Fringe Festival, requires all the stamina that he can muster. Gaines is alone on stage throughout the entire, hour-long performance. He uses a minimal amount of words, instead communicating in incredibly expressive voice effects straight out of the Wile E. Coyote School of Acting.

<p>The sound of running horses becomes “bobbity bobbity bobbity.” When a clumsy samurai has a mishap in unsheathing his katana, Gaines lets out a loud “sproing!” “Most of the stylistic references in this are to … Warner Brothers cartoons; Roadrunner, Daffy Duck, that kind of thing,” he said.

<p>The result is a frenetic feat of creativity and storytelling. “He’s super-talented,” Hy Ludmer, another audience member at a recent showing, said. “I was disappointed when I heard it was by a mime but this was like no mime I’ve ever seen before. He brought it all to life.”