The Citiblog

Review: Cynthia Nixon Dazzles in The Seven Year Disappear
February 26, 2024, 7:33.17 pm ET


Photo: Monique Carboni

By Brian Scott Lipton

To the “Jeopardy” category “Terrible Mothers: First Letter M” (Medea, Mary Tyrone), we can now add Miriam, the narcissistic performance artist at the center of Jordan Seavey’s bracing new drama “The Seven Year Disappear,” being presented by the New Group at the Pershing Square Theatre Center under Scott Elliott’s assured direction.

To say Miriam (the wondrous, seemingly tireless Cynthia Nixon) is at the “center” of this provocative 90-minute work is also a bit of a contradiction. The actual character only appears in a few scenes in the play, which is told in mostly reverse chronological order between 2016 and 2009, and which primarily relates how Miriam’s sudden disappearance from the world affects the life of her troubled son Naphtali (a magnificent, heartbreaking Taylor Trensch).

A mid-career performance artist whose star is on the wane – and one who is being even more rapidly eclipsed by her rival, the real-life artist Marina Abramovic -- Miriam gets a chance for re-ascension after Naphtali, now her business partner and manager at age 23, brokers a deal with MoMA to produce her next commission.

But seconds before she is to unveil her idea at a fancy-schmancy donor party, Miriam seemingly vanishes into thin air – and stays invisible until her sudden reappearance on Thanksgiving 2016 with almost no answers but a questionable plan to shock to the art world one more time that requires Naphtali’s full cooperation.

Even in her absence, though, Miriam is ever-present, as every person whom Napthali interacts with bears his mother’s face (in his mind, at least), including her ex-lover Wolfgang (with whom Naphtali has an affair), his actress friend Aviva, and Tomas, his co-worker on Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign with whom he also ends up sleeping.

Further, having no other family – Miriam has deliberately never told Naphtali who his father is – the confused young man turns to every person he knows, follows every instinct (good and bad), and indulges in every legal or illegal substance (Crystal meth, G, and, of course, booze) to fill the void in his heart. That none of them replaces Miriam, even if she is the illustrated definition of self-absorption, is no real surprise. Absence may not actually make the heart grow fonder, but it does make the heart long for what is no longer present.

As a result, Nixon also never leaves Derek McLane’s minimally dressed stage, subtly shifting accents, postures and occasional costume accessories (by Qween Jean) to embody seven other characters than Miriam. Whether deliberately or not, Nixon isn’t a great mimic; nonetheless, she is never less than compelling, even as most of the characters are little more than pencil sketches.

As for Miriam, she is truly a riddle wrapped in a puzzle inside an enigma. She often sounds like a Soviet refugee or an old Jew – she’s fond of calling Naphtali boychik, but it turns out, she’s a middle-aged shiksa from Peoria who has converted for reasons which may or may not be true (like most anything she says).

Only her final tale – the epilogue to her commission – sounds completely sincere even as it fails to answer the most basic question: Why did she have Naphtali at all? Was it just one more act of narcissism? Indeed, if there’s any thesis to Seavey’s play, it appears to be that true artists should never engage in human reproduction.

How easily you will follow all of what happens may depend on your capacity for paying attention and observing details. The show’s timeline is projected in two different ways before and during the play by John Narun, but it can remain muddled. A couple of scenes are also projected on the stage (although Nixon and Trensch are present), most notably one when Naphtali turns up at a sex party run by a drug-dealing, HIV-positive Episcopalian bishop.

Reader be warned, some of the play is not for the faint of heart. Still, walking out on “The Seven Year Disappear” – just as Miriam has walked out on her son -- would be a real mistake!

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