Michael Pennington and Natasha Parry
in Love Is My Sin
(© Pascal Victor/ArtComArt)
Michael Pennington and Natasha Parry
in Love Is My Sin
(© Pascal Victor/ArtComArt)
It is a distinct pleasure to hear the words of Shakespeare roll off the tongue of the superlative Michael Pennington in Love Is My Sin, a program of Shakespearean sonnets, conceived and directed by Peter Brook and now being presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke on 42nd Street. Unfortunately, the enterprise as a whole is only intermittently engaging.

Divided into four sections, the show features Pennington and actress Natasha Parry bringing to life over two dozen of Shakespeare's poems. Some will be immediately familiar to many theatergoers, while others may be more obscure.

Several are performed as brief soliloquies, and it is here where Pennington's interpretive skills shine brightest. A highlight is his rendition of sonnet #138, which begins "When my love swears that she is made of truth..." It is full of humor, as well as a gentle self-mockery that is both appropriate and endearing. Throughout the evening, Pennington's sonorous voice brings out nuances in the text while he simultaneously creates a one-on-one relationship with the audience in which you might swear he was speaking directly to you.

Parry is not as successful in this regard, often appearing to talk at the audience rather than to them. She is also unable to achieve the subtleties that seem to come naturally to Pennington, and you're more likely to zone out while she is speaking. She does fare better when the sonnets are played as scenes, as the two actors have a good rapport and believably create a love/hate relationship that is expressed over a number of different sonnets.

This is most pronounced in the segment of the evening entitled "Jealousy," wherein the spatial relationship between the two actors often reveals the emotional distance that is being played out in Shakespeare's words. While nearly all of the sonnets are spoken by just one or the other of the performers, there is a lot of non-verbal expression utilized, as well as the occasional huff of indignation. Sonnet #145 has Parry periodically chiming in with a word or two of the text, but it is not until the end of the evening that they perform a sonnet as a two-voice poem -- appropriately enough, it's #116, which begins "Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments..."

A crucial component of the show is the music played by Franck Krawczyk on accordion and keyboard, and derived from the work of 17th-century composer Louis Couperin. Sometimes, the music is used to underscore a poem, other times to ease transitions between sections of the piece. In one arresting moment, Krawczyk plays the accordion without hitting any of the keys, creating a sound very much like the crash of waves upon the beach. Naturally, this is followed by sonnet #60, which starts, "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore..."

With a ticket price of $75, the 50-minute program may seem nothing more than a rather expensive evening of poetry. But even if the words are not always realized with a consistent theatricality, there is much to admire within the show, not the least of which is Pennington's performance.