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Sin

Mark Altman's adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Unseen is earnestly stodgy.

By New York City
Paul Collins and Suzanne Toren in Sin
(© Aaron Epstein)
Paul Collins and Suzanne Toren in Sin
(© Aaron Epstein)
At the end of Sin, Mark Altman's adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Unseen playing at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, Satan (Grant James Varjas) gleefully proclaims that he has induced a loving couple in their golden years to succumb to "Adultery, murder, idol worship -- the trinity of sin! And on Yom Kippur!" The devil's work on the couple -- Nosn (Paul Collins) and Royze Temerl (Suzanne Toren) -- is pretty heady stuff, so it's no small surprise that the production, staged by Kent Paul, is such an earnestly stodgy affair.

Satan plies his evil on earth with the help of two demons, the voluptuous Shirfre Tsirl (Sarah Grace Wilson) and the strangely kindhearted Dvoyre Leye (Jessiee Datino), who arrive on the couple's doorstep just as the two are discussing the fact that they need to get a new maid. Nosn is instantly taken with Shifre Tsirl, and he hires her, even though she asks for both a hefty salary and a servant of her own.

Before long, Nosn has fallen under her spell, and is agreeing to divorce his wife of 40 years and run off with the younger woman. In the wake of being deserted, Royze Temerl discovers the debts that Nosn has accrued, forcing her to marry his competitor, the nebbishy Myshe Mekheles (Pierre Epstein). Needless to say, neither of the couple's second partnerings turn out well, and both are forced to make choices that contradict the teachings of the Torah in an effort to undue their actions.

There are elements of both sex farce and tragedy in Sin, and yet, neither come to the fore in Paul's production, which seems intent on presenting the tale so that theatergoers learn lessons about the dangers of free will. Thankfully, though, the piece is sumptuous to look at; scenic designer Michael Locher and costume designer China Lee make the production look as if it is a particularly handsome illustration from a volume of Grimms' Fairy Tales has sprung to life onstage.

One is also grateful that the piece is so beautifully performed. Collins and Toren both engage instantly, making Nosn and Royze Temerl's love for one another so palpable that by the time they've come to realize the error of their ways, their situation is undeniably pitiable. Both Varjas and Wilson make for fine stage incarnations of the denizens of hell, playing their roles as tempter and temptress with oily subtlety. Datino and Epstein round out the ensemble with work that's both solid, and understatedly comic.


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