Previews: 03/09/10- Close: 03/23/10
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Lauren Wissot
Aaron Epstein ©2018 Jessiee Datino, Grant James Varjas, Sarah Grace Wilson
I'd been greatly looking forward to seeing "Sin," directed by Kent Paul and adapted from the short story "The Unseen" by Isaac Bashevis Singer (author of the better known "Yentl"), for quite some time now. Though I know nothing of the source material for this comedic thriller - that takes place in 16th Century Poland and concerns a happily married, observantly Jewish couple whose lives are upturned by the devil and his temptress minions on Yom Kippur - I have read the play. Having been given an earlier draft by its writer Mark Altman (who I'd gotten to know after I reviewed "Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls," which he co-wrote, for this site) I now find myself in the odd position of also knowing that Altman's page-turner of a play is, well, better than the sum of its production parts.
The plot involves middle-aged lovebirds Nosn (Paul Collins) and Royze Temerl (Suzanne Toren) who are under siege by the devil disguised as a coachman named Leybish (Grant James Varjas) and his two servants in the form of sexy maids, Dvoyre Leye (Jessiee Datino) and Shifre Tsirl (Sarah Grace Wilson), that he shuttles from town to town hoping to spark infidelity - and to ultimately eradicate the very concept of "sin." Also in the cast is Pierre Epstein as Moyshe Mekheles, Nosn's business competitor and nosy neighbor able to sniff out opportunity a mile away. In addition to Altman's tight script there's Michael Locher's boldly imaginative scenic design that works exquisitely in concert with Matthew McCarthy's ominous lighting and Robert Rees's subtle yet evocative score. Nosn and Royze Temerl's modest house seems straight out of "Hansel and Gretel" - its rooftop simultaneously serving as a graveyard-like meeting place for Leybish and his fellow schemers. And China Lee's arresting operatic costumes smartly enhance the fairytale effect..
Aaron Epstein ©2018 Suzanne Toren, Jessiee Datino
But with a running time of over two hours it falls to the actors - and the director's vision - to keep us simultaneously laughing and on the edge of our seats through the farcical twists and turns of "Sin." While there are some notable performances from a nuanced Collins, Varjas as a likeably duplicitous Satan, and a pitch-perfect Epstein who savors every line as his oddball Moyshe does a sip of water, this is only half the cast. Toren as Royze Temerl seems to be playing a broad idea of character rather than a flesh-and-blood person actively listening and Sarah Grace Wilson, who resembles Rebecca Hall and who would appear more suited to playing Ophelia in "Hamlet," is simply miscast. (The role of Shifre Tsirl, often clad in fishnet stockings and dominatrix gear, is the young Kathleen Turner or Sharon Stone part - the insatiable vamp that eats men for breakfast and makes them enjoy the meal along with her.) The actresses just don't fight for control of their scenes or take command of the stage - and this is absolutely crucial in a (power) play that is every bit as much about the struggle between the sexes as it is about the battle between good and evil. (It's also the only thing that will keep an audience riveted.) "The less you give in to the body the better it is for your soul," Moyshe Mekheles advises Nosn at one point. While "Sin" certainly has a beautiful body Kent Paul's predictably staged production often feels like it's obscuring a thought-provoking soul.
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