New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

Baruch Performing Arts Center, Manhattan

Any I. B. Singer story offers the promise of a wry, delightful view of the human condition. Although translated from the Yiddish and recalling an earlier, remote period of Jewish history, Singer stories are remarkably relevant, even in today’s world. Hence, we expected the best from “Sin,” (an adaptation of the Singer story “The Unseen”) which is now playing off-Broadway at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

There is indeed much to commend this production. Specifically, its direction (by Kent Paul), performances, stage set (Michael Locher), costumes (China Lee) are all thoroughly professional. But “Sin” falls short in the most important area—the play itself. This adaptation of “The Unseen” (by Mark Altman) drags along at a shambling pace, repeating itself interminably. Dialogue should be either tightened or given more substance. The sharp and shocking thrusts usually offered in a Singer story are thus muted. Billed as a comedy, “Sin” lacks the timing so necessary for that genre.

The story, basically, is intriguing, pure Singer—and deserves better treatment. It is an other-worldly sixteenth century Poland, haunted by demons, but peopled with all-too-human humans. A man and his wife, Nasn and Royze Temerl (played by Paul Collins and Suzanne Toren) have lived together happily for forty years. But, in seeking a maid, they hire two pretty young girls (both actually demons). Dvoyre Leye (Jessiee Datino) is quiet, demure, while Shifre Tsirl (played by Sarah Grace Wilson) is sassy and seductive. They are offered up by a coachman (who, in truth, is Satan, played with demonic cunning by Grant James Varjas). Shifre quickly enchants the vulnerable Nasn and they run off together, but not before he divorces his wife. Royze, devastated, marries her rich neighbor Moyshe (Pierre Epstein) whom she despises. When a ragged Nasn reappears, Royze takes him in, feeds him, hides him. Thus sinning, they are truly in thrall to the demons.

Director Paul brings charm to the production as he smoothly maneuvers players on and off Locher’s two-level stage. The upper level is mostly the demons’ world, while the lower is human. Of course the demons frequently appear below and manage to wreck marital bliss. As to performances, Epstein is most notable as the grasping, unlikeable neighbor, a veritable caricature of the type. But the entire cast is right on target.

Despite the plus factors, “Sin” fails to live up to its promise. What is the solution? Perhaps the piece would fare better as a tightened one-act drama. Or, the alternative for fans of I. B. Singer is to read the original story, to go back to “The Unseen.”

--Irene Backalenick
Mar. 17, 2010

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