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A CurtainUp Review
Love Is My Sin

When my love swears that she is made of truth,/ I do believe her though I know she lies,/That she might think me some untutored youth/Unlearned in the world's false subtleties—William Shakespeare
Love is My Sin
Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington
After a lifetime of dramatizing Shakespeare's plays, Peter Brook plunges wide and deep into the sonnets. Love Is My Sin, which premiered in Paris last year and is currently presented by Theatre for a New Audience at The Duke Theater, is an adaptation of 31 of Shakespeare's sonnets. Performed by Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington, this show proves that the sonnets are not passé but can still catch the conscience of an audience.

Everything about Love Is My Sin is elegant and smart, giving audiences an experience that can only be had in the theater. In staging the sonnets, Brook seems to be gently reminding us that Shakespeare was first and foremost a man of the theater, and that even his poems are suffused with an urgent dramatic impulse.

The program is indexed into 4 thematic sections, which the audience can see projected over the stage at pivotal points during the evening: Devouring Time, Separation,Jealousy, and Time Defied. Interestingly, Jealousy gets the lion's share of the evening (12 poems) with the shortest section being Time Defied (5 poems). But you're likely to forget the number of sonnets tethered to each designated theme once the presentation gets underway.

In performance each section acquires an incantatory power that blurs the rigid literary boundaries of individual poems, and the sum becomes greater than its respective parts. Although this project illuminates the sonnets' Elizabethan eloquence, its greater achievement lies in presenting the material as a spontaneous dialogue between two lovers in an evolving dynamic relationship.

The sonnets are the thing here. Brook, who is famous for his surgery on sacred texts, impresses his signature, not by cutting anything from Shakespeare's text, but by expunging any excessive sentimentality from the show. He reinforces the simplicity of the program by having no costume changes with both actors wearing simple but elegant outfits. The single set is typical of Brook's minimalism.

The most compelling aspect of the piece is its rich display of Shakespeare's language. Each sonnet, in its complex linguistic make-up is as interesting as the entrance of a new character in a play. Parry (Brook's wife) and Pennington inhabit multiple personas who re-enact changes of mind in intense emotional circumstances. Within the space of 14 lines, we can listen to their rhythmic grumblings give way to the resignation of Sonnet 19 ("Yet do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,/My love shall in my verse ever live young."); the painful truth of Sonnet 50 ("For that same groan doth put this in my mind:/ My grief lies onward and my joy behind."); or the reversal of judgment of Sonnet 147 ("For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.")

Shakespeare's sonnets offer its fictive speakers opportunities for psychic reevaluation. Pennington gets the more comic turns of the evening, especially in Sonnet 138 ("When my love swears that she is made of truth,/ I do believe her though I know she lies."). Parry delivers the powerful ending of Sonnet 129 ("All this the world well knows yet none knows well/ To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.")

Some fine musical collaboration here from Franck Krawczyk on the accordion and keyboard enhances and underscores the innate lyrical momentum of the sonnets. Without overpowering any scene, Krawczyk ensures that the musicality of the evening is emphasized, and that the transitions between sections is seamlessly executed.

Obviously, Brook isn't trying to prop up Shakespeare's reputation, nor does he need to burnish his having already left his indelible mark on the contemporary theatre world. Whether it's recalling his landmark production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1970), his influential Titus Andronicus (1955) or his memorable King John (1945), his radical approach to staging Shakespeare has profoundly altered the way we look at the Bard today.

The only problem with this program is that 50 minutes and $75 a ticket, even the most devoted Bardolators and Brook fans might think twice before reaching for their wallets. Indeed this show could aptly be retitled: Caviar for the General.

Love Is My Sin
Written by William Shakespeare
Conceived and directed by Peter Brook
Cast: Natasha Perry and Michael Pennington; Franck Krawczyk plays the music of Louis Couperin.
Lighting: PhilippeVialatte
Stage Manager: Christopher C. Dunlop
Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke Theater at 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. Phone 212/223-3010 or via the web at
Tickets: $75.
From 3/25/10; opening 4/01/10; closing 4/17/10.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Wednesday and Saturday matinees @ 2pm; Sunday matinee @ 3pm.
Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on April 2nd press performance
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