Reviews NYCOff-Broadway Published 26 February 2024

Review: The Seven Year Disappear at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center

The Pershing Square Signature Center ⋄ 6 Feb-31 March

An exciting new play from Jordan Seavey features extraordinary performances by Cynthia Nixon and Taylor Trensch. Lane Williamson reviews.

Lane Williamson

“The Seven Year Disappear” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo: Monique Carboni)

Jordan Seavey’s The Seven Year Disappear may seem familiar on its surface: a gay son and his somewhat fabulous mother struggle to connect, each missing what the other needs. But the genius of Seavey’s play and Scott Elliott’s excellent staging of it for The New Group lies in how it focuses on the son and not the mother. Though it co-stars legend of stage and screen Cynthia Nixon, the play belongs to another kind of legend, New York theatre darling Taylor Trensch.

Miriam (Nixon) is a well-known avant-garde performance artist – she is immediately juxtaposed against Marina Abramović, which tells us all we need to know. Her son/business manager Naphtali (Trensch) manages to negotiate a commission from the MoMA and, seconds before its announcement, Miriam performs the titular “disappear”, vanishing from New York, and Naphtali, for seven years. Eventually, she returns, suddenly, with a proposition for Naphtali. But while she’s been gone, her son has changed – for better and/or worse.

Seavey’s play explores what happens to Naphtali while Miriam is gone and what effect she had on him when she was around. In a stroke of theatrical brilliance, Seavey solves the problem of having one of the two actors “missing” for a large portion of the play by having Nixon take on many other roles while Miriam is away. She plays a German artist who has slept with both mother and son, an actress friend of Naphtali, and a couple men he dates or hooks up with, among others. 

It would be fine to leave it at that – Nixon, an incomparable actress, blends seamlessly (and once, bone-chillingly) into these other characters. It’s a ripe part for someone of her ability and Nixon never lets these other personas stray into mockery. Even as she’s sucking on a lollipop, wearing a backwards hat, and swiveling in a chair, it’s a real person she’s portraying. Even as she’s on a date with Naphtali, complimenting his body, she melts away and there’s real electricity between them. 

But Seavey layers the doubling not once, but twice. Yes, Nixon is playing these roles, but it’s also Naphtali seeing his mother in everyone he encounters. As he’s searching for her, he’s longing for her. In every connection with another person, there’s an element of his mother. And then, beyond even that, Seavey introduces a coup de théâtre late in the play that shouldn’t be spoiled, but further explains why Miriam plays all the parts, why she’s omnipresent, why we entered the theatre to huge projections (by John Narun) of her name. 

If that break in the play before its final scene doesn’t fully hit with the surprise it should, it doesn’t detract from the sensitive, moving scene that follows it. Trensch and Nixon sit on the lip of the stage, legs dangling, and Nixon delivers a monologue that strips away everything else, leaving us with nothing but a powerful connection to this actress (both Nixon and Miriam) and to Nixon’s own astonishing talent.

The play belongs to Naphtali, though. As much as Nixon is changing personas, Naphtali could be considered a constant. Even when Trensch dons glasses and an accent in the play’s last scene, it’s still clearly Naphtali under the garb. But Trensch’s ability to portray what’s going on inside Naphtali shows us as many sides of this one person as we are seeing Nixon portray other people. The opening scene displays Trensch’s inherent charisma and he and Nixon have phenomenal chemistry, but it’s when the play jumps shortly after that and we see the gentle, sweet, funny Naphtali from the first scene turn into something wildly different that the play unlocks. Another door is flung open and what appears to be one type of play (lonely boy looks for his missing mother) becomes another (lost man loses his mother and looks for himself). 

Trensch holds the play to his chest, and the audience with it. He’s so captivating. He’s such a unique and intelligent actor that the play never feels unbalanced with Nixon. Even the gag of having this younger gay actor share the stage with an icon like Nixon does not overshadow the emotional truth of each moment. Even when the play gets a little campy or a lot explicit, Trensch’s grounded, truthful acting keeps it from breaking its seams. It’s an odyssey, of sorts, for Naphtali: traveling New York in search of himself and meeting many creatures along the way. 

The Seven Year Disappear is exciting in its subversion, sharp in its dialogue, and surprising in its emotional impact. The final line seems, at first, innocuous until its actual meaning slams down and encompasses the entire play just as the lights blink off. Even those of us who have great relationships with our mothers are instantly also Naphtali. 

Lane Williamson

Lane Williamson is co-editor of Exeunt and a contributing critic at The Stage. He is a member of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.

Review: The Seven Year Disappear at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center Show Info

Produced by The New Group

Directed by Scott Elliott

Written by Jordan Seavey

Scenic Design Derek McLane, COSTUME DESIGN: Qween Jean

Lighting Design Jeff Croiter

Sound Design Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen

Cast includes Cynthia Nixon, Taylor Trensch

Show Details & Tickets

Running Time 1hr 30min


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