One man plays seven celebrities in the midst of their trysts with the prolific pop star.
In the first installment of our New York International Fringe Festival reviewing series, we take on a show with such an absurd, fun presence it had to be good. Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift is a series of seven short plays in which one actor, Thaddeus Shafer, plays seven celebrity men who were at one time romantically involved with Taylor Swift, in the midst of their "seductions" of her. It is a masterful performance precisely because it's a show that refuses to take itself seriously, but at the same time is more insightful than you might expect.
Celebrity News in Theater Form
Each character is introduced with a reel of talk show and interview clips to recall the celebrity at the moment of his career in which he was dating Swift--so if you have absolutely no memory of Jake Gyllenhaal circa 2010, do not be alarmed. Meanwhile, Shafer transitions into the character using one of the costumes on the rack standing on stage and a particular arrangement of acting blocks, the only set elements the stage contains. This flexibility becomes very useful, as the stage becomes at various points in the performance a hotel room, a movie theater and a sleazy bar, where each man takes his post.
Some of the plays require more background knowledge of the celebrities than others. A passing familiarity with the Jonas Brothers would allow you to understand the conflict surrounding Joe's ceding of his purity ring, for instance, but the nuances of John Mayer's trysts with Swift may escape you. Even so, Shafer and director Amin El Gamal did a wonderful job capturing the particulars of each of the men, whether clearly differentiating between the self-effacing attitudes of Joe Jonas and Taylor Lautner or embracing Harry Styles's enthusiasm for nudity.
Funny and Insightful All in One
My favorite episode of the bunch was probably the least funny, precisely because it took a different perspective than the rest. The Cory Monteith play, written by Lily Blau, takes on the question of addiction and the costs of fame that has been so much in the news lately since Monteith's death via drug overdose. The actor admits to using alcohol to manage the stress of being the man his fans expect him to be, an issue he claims Taylor Swift does not have because she "is her image."
For the most fun plays, I would look to Jake Gyllenhaal by Joanna Bateman and Harry Styles by Kari Lee. Gyllenhaal's episode is entirely nonverbal, as he sits alone in his house texting with Swift to convince her to hook up with him, the iPhone thread projected against the back wall. It is a hilarious insight into what boys are doing while you wait for them to text back, and a bit of an indictment against the short attention spans of the modern age.
Harry Styles, meanwhile, gives an extended monologue about how he manufactured a relationship with the pop star to launch his own solo career for after One Direction ends. The completely absurd series of events involves the young Brit dressing up as a preteen girl and infiltrating a Taylor Swift concert, falling in love with her music in the process. Featuring lines such as "Your fans smell like my fans, like cherry Blow Pops and virginity," Lee takes her parody of celebrity culture to the limit.
Seven Stories, Seven Styles
Seven Seductions features a variety of creative storytelling methods to keep the solo performance from getting stale. In addition to the Gyllenhaal texting conversation and Harry Styles monologue, there is also Conor Kennedy writing an egotistical letter to Swift (using a quill pen) celebrating their respective wealth and Americanness, while Joe Jonas has a conversation with his own voiceover inner monologue. While the evening as a whole could have used far fewer air make-outs with an imaginary Taylor Swift, it tackled the issue of having only one actor on stage remarkably well.
It is certainly a fun show, one that takes on the humor and perils of celebrity culture while maintaining a positive, uncritical attitude toward Swift herself. And if the plays, which largely take place between 2008 and 2012, feel a little out-of-date in the world of celebrity gossip, that does not keep the performance from keeping your attention and making you think a bit deeper about what the public personas of Hollywood stars really mean. If you are the sort of person who occasionally watches entertainment news or has at least a passing interest in celebrity relationships, then this is the show for you.
Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift plays as part of the NYC Fringe Festival at the Players Theatre. Remaining performances are on Friday the 15th at 7, Tuesday the 19th at 7, Thursday the 21st at 2:30 and Saturday the 23rd at 12:30. For more information, check out their website.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.