Love Is My Sin
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
March 31, 2010
When I was a young actor in Atlanta, learning the ins and outs of what goes into building a performance, one of the earliest pieces I was asked to perform was a sonnet. At the time, it was a thrilling experience; sweating and working over the language, discovering what was being said only to find out what the writer was really saying. Since then, I've always wondered why these aren't more often added to the canon of Shakespeare in performance. With Peter Brook's Love Is My Sin, playing now at The Duke on 42nd, it is the unique richness of the sonnet that is on display. In this production, however, a celebration of the sonnets and of Shakespeare the human being fall well short of exciting theatre.
Love Is My Sin, which according to the program is neither a poetry reading nor a play, functions as a sparingly blocked "verbal dance," in which the relationship of an aging couple is explored using only the 31 sonnets chosen by director Peter Brook. From the sonnets, we see the couple as they trade emotional disclosures about impending death, jealousy, and the overwhelming power of attraction and desire. In our youth-obsessed culture, which never takes the time to explore the emotional deep end that is growing old, the idea of watching these two fine actors uncovering various layers of their iron love seems a potentially enriching one. But with Brook's seemingly hands-off approach, what could have been enriching left me feeling unfulfilled. Hearing the poetry of Shakespeare out of these classically trained mouths is a treat, and the work's relationship with the music is special, but outside of that, I couldn't help but wonder why this was being staged. And at $75 dollars a ticket, in this instance, I think it pays to be named Peter Brook. In no modern theatre would a lesser named director get the chance to stage something so free of visible theatricality. (To be fair, ages 25 and under can purchase $10 tickets under the theatre's "New Deal" program.)
While dramatically Brook's piece fall short of being engaging theatre, the work of Michael Pennington is certainly a living, breathing master class in classical performance. His personal history with Shakespeare is a long one, and here, in a show almost entirely devoid of theatrical trappings sans the text, it shows. Pennington works beautifully in that rare space where perfect, but also natural sounding, diction is coupled with deep, full readings of the work. It also helps that of the two performers, Brook has given Pennington the more exciting of the roles. The show's faults aside, as Pennington delivers "Love is my sin," sitting before us, deflated and on the ground, the moment is striking for its powerful simplicity.
Much more of this was needed, though sadly, not seen. Pennington's co-star, Natasha Parry, is not so lucky. For her role, Brook has locked her into a few square feet downstage right, forcing her to rely much more heavily upon the text of the work. This lack of physicality isn't helped by Parry's understated performance. The emotional life behind the sonnets recited by Parry is, with the exception of a few moments, rarely visible in a way that will pull most audiences closer to an already difficult staging.
As the third member of this cast, Franck Krawczyk's music is a welcome addition to the show. Weaving beautifully in between the performances of the others, Krawczyk's accordion and piano provide a much needed dose of theatricality.