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Vincent Sagona, Michael Evans Lopez,
and Sarah Gifford in Mark of Cain
(Photo: Chuck Cors)
The director of Mark of Cain, Jens Boutrup, has come to us from Copenhagen and is studying his craft at Brooklyn College. At 78th Street Theatre Lab, he is presenting his own translation of a play by one of his country's foremost contemporary playwrights, Morti Vizki. One admires the willingness to challenge and expand American audiences' awareness of contemporary work outside our borders; if this piece is representative, there is lots of potential in need of polish among the younger, theatrically inclined Danes. (No Hamlet jokes, please.)

Mark of Cain is an ambitious play that attempts to retell the Biblical story of the sons of Adam and Eve with current cultural references and a kind of Beckett-manqué atmosphere. Vincent Sagona as Cain and Michael Evans Lopez as Abel are attired as college students, and their demeanor, speech patterns, and outlook are all of the moment; but the language also veers into the elliptical and poetic without much warning. This approach, chosen by Vizki and reinforced by his translator-director, is an interesting one which does not ultimately yield dividends.

Phrases like "paranoid loser" and "you little shit" do not meld easily with the more elliptical language and symbolist tones that the script employs elsewhere, and Bourtrup can't pull the whole thing together. On one hand, Abel insists on a fraternal bond by explaining that both boys have yellow eyes "like the birds in the sky," but notes also that Cain seems to have "used up all the oxygen" before Abel was born. Amid this vivid but not terribly cohesive imagery, we see the pair don gas station attendant jackets with their names sewn on before heading to work. We also see them reading tabloids, Abel insisting that "We're the children of celebrities!"

Abel apparently wants a taste of paradise like Mommy and Daddy had, and he will never get it. But he has everything else and is repeatedly described as "spoiled" by his big bro. That Abel's a shepherd (literally) with an erotic fondness for his flock is an anything-but-subtle signifier for decadence and decay. When we find out that Abel and his "art-loving" kin represent the intellectual and racial classes eventually sent by Cain's descendents to Auschwitz, Abel's implied bestiality seems like an odd and childishly provocative idea on Vizki's part.

Commendably, there are only occasional moments when the awkwardness of the lines seems attributable to Boutrup's grasp of English in his translation. Additionally, the director handles the young cast and extreme budgetary limitations of this production fairly well. Boutrup is aided by some bold choices on the part of designer Lisbeth Burian, including the decision to uncover onstage windows to the outside. But what moves the play and makes it a wholesale rewrite of this section of Genesis is the introduction of a female Lucifer, a temptress who turns the brothers against each other. Though well rendered by Sarah Gifford, this Lucifer does not impress us as crafty, but the dullard brothers only require Budweisers and mild flirtation in a smoky bar to succumb to their fates.

There is a moment in the final scene, after Abel has been dispatched, when sexy Satan says that everything's turned so upside down, "the dogs are cats." For the second or third time during the evening, the audience actually sees the house pet -- a domestic longhair -- prowling around the stage. And by this time, we're more than willing to be distracted.

Each artist involved in the production has promise. Were one to propose adjustments to Sagona's Cain, the actor's regular-guy aspect would be toned down a bit; he just seems too much of a lug as he's played now. Lopez could be a less prissy Abel and Gifford could make her alternations between camp and seriousness more pronounced. There's something fun about what's going on here, and the piece will be interesting to those who are curious about contemporary playwriting on the other side of the pond, but it hasn't been fully baked. Perhaps, in college, Boutrup can develop further while continuing to take risks.

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