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Love is my sin

Ringling Arts Festival

Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8th October 2009, Jay Handelman

As if we weren’t already impressed enough by the words of William Shakespeare, director Peter Brook finds ways to introduce us to the writer in a new way in ‘Love is my sin,’ which is getting its U.S. Premiere this weekend at the Ringling International Arts Festival. Shakespeare sure knew how to express deep feelings of love, jealousy and sorrow in beautiful ways that make us powerless to come anywhere close.

‘Love is my sin’ is a play of sorts mixed with a poetry reading given life by two actors - Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington - and musician Franck Krawczyk. Brook, the legendary director, has pulled together 29 of the more than 150 sonnets Shakespeare wrote to tell the various aspects of a relationship between a man and a woman.

With collaborator Marie Helene Estienne, Brook has organized the chosen sonnets into sections, such as ‘Devouring Time,’ ‘Separation,’ ‘Jealousy’ and ‘Time’s Defeat,’ as a pair of lovers face old age, parting, anger and sorrow as death looms.

The piece is pretty to the ear, but is less than compelling to watch as the two actors sit on small frame cube-like chairs or stand looking at each other or staring out into space as if contemplating the bigger thoughts and worlds out there. Sometimes, I felt like I was lost in space, drawn into the occasional moments of humor or the moving moments that bring tears to Parry’s eyes and then let go for for more general expressions of a relationship’s ups and downs.

The play’s joys come from the way the actors use their voices and souls to bring out these rich thoughts and feelings, even if the piece doesn’t build dramatically, except perhaps during the ‘Jealousy’ section, which brings out the humor in the various situations depicted. Still, it’s not unpleasant to leave with the sound of Shakespeare’s poetry ringing in your ears.

Duke on 42nd Street, New York

TheaterMania.com, 2nd April 2010, Dan Bacalzo

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 some 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 god 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.

Metromix.com, 2nd April 2010, Jennifer Farrar

Human nature hasn’t changed much in the 400 years or so since William Shakespeare wrote his timeless plays and sonnets. Audiences never tire of hearing his work, so it’s a real treat that renowned director Peter Brook has brought some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to bittersweet life in his charming new adaptation, Love is my Sin.

Two seasoned Shakespearean actors, dressed in casual black, take to a minimally furnished stage at the Duke on 42nd Street. Michael Pennington and Natasha Parry, who is also Brook’s wife, expressively portray an older couple using the sonnets to communicate with one another and the audience.

They recite Brook’s selection of 31 of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets that are filled with wisdom and contemporary relevance, primarily dealing with the inevitable passing of time and the changing nature of love through the years.

Both actors provide nuanced, emotional performances, by turns rueful, humorous, ironic and contemplative. Pennington strides about the stage, his character often gesturing and defiant, while Parry employs subtle facial changes and body language to lovely effect.

Brook has arranged the chosen sonnets into four sections: “Devouring Time,” “Separation,” “Jealousy” and “Time Defied.” One recurring theme is Shakespeare’s verbal battle against time, and Brook agrees with him that love can conquer time, selecting sonnets that reflect this viewpoint.

Early in the play, the concept is introduced with “My love shall in my verse ever live young,” from sonnet 19. It reverberates throughout, and Brook concludes with sonnet 116, which states, “Love’s not Time’s fool.”

Yet reality repeatedly intrudes on the bravado, as when Parry affectingly recites the famous autumnal lines from sonnet 73, about aging and the approach of death, “bare ruined choirs, where late the birds sang.”

The actors are led on and off the stage by a strolling accordionist, played by pianist and composer Franck Krawczyk, who also performs haunting keyboard music during the play.

Love is my Sin is less than an hour long, but the eloquent Elizabethan verse if so beautifully spoken that it’s fulfilling like a rich dessert. In a talk after one preview, Brook told the audience that he selected his actors for their “heart and art.” That is a perfect description of this Theatre for a New Audience production, which is a gift of poetry for lovers of Shakespeare.

New York Post, 2nd April 2010, Frank Scheck

We can’t really expect more theatrical spectacles on the order of The Mahabharata from legendary director Peter Brook, now 85. So we must settle for charming diversions like Love is my Sin, essentially a  choreographed recitation of a cannily chosen selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Starring veteran Shakespearean actor Michael Pennington and Brook’s wife, Natasha Parry, the piece - now getting its New York premiere by Theatre for a New Audience - features 31 sonnets arranged to show the trajectory of a relationship.

Since Pennington’s 66 and Parry’s roughly 80 (she looks much younger), the evening inevitably has a rueful, elegiac quality.

On a stage covered with a large Persian rug and a scattering of chairs and tables, the pair deliver sensitive, engrossing renditions of the works, which are divided into themed sections via projected titles. Accompanying them is a musician performing songs by Baroque composer Louis Couperin on keyboard and accordion.

The results, aided by the performers’ expressive body language, are as close as one could probably get. This is most evident in the “Jealousy” section, when the man, on bent knee, confesses, “Alas ‘tis true, I have gone here and there/And made myself a motley to the view,” only to be pushed over by the woman, who snidely observes, “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame/Is lust in action.”

Running a mere 50 minutes (at $75 a ticket, no less), Love is My Sin would have greater impact as part of a double bill.

But it does offer the opportunity to hear magnificent and timeless poetry in a new and revelatory fashion.

The New York Times, 2nd April 2010, Charles Isherwood

Time, that indifferent destroys of all things mortal, seems to stay its scythe, to borrow a metaphor, for the brief passage of Love is my Sin, Peter Brook’s theatrical adaptation of select Shakespeare sonnets, at the Duke on 42nd Street.

Although the production is of a spare simplicity that can make seconds stretch like hours if the words carry no weight, Me Brook and the evening’s two performers, Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington, deliver the poems with such grave, affecting grace that and hour seems to flash by in a fleeting few minutes. The production, presented by Theater for a New Audience, leaves behind a haunting afterimage of the struggle to make evanescent things - love and beauty and the art that celebrates them - defy life’s inevitable endings.

The material is presented with Mr Brook’s customary minimalism. The impassioned feeling Shakespeare channeled into the formal sonnet structure is adorned with no unnecessary artifice. The evening is divided into four sections under simple rubrics, the titles of which are projected above the stage during brief pauses as the lights dim to signal a thematic transition: “Devouring Time,” “Separation,” “Jealousy” and “Time Defied.” The show is performed on a stage covered in a worn Persian carpet, with a couple of chairs and stools the only furnishing. Franck Krawczyk provides incidental music, vaguely baroque, on a keyboard and accordion.

Shakespeare’s sonnets for the most part have the natural flow of feeling and reflection translated into verse with an almost impulsive directness, but Mr Brook has also selected the 31 sonnets for their fluid syntax and lucid meaning, easily transmitted in speech. Ms Parry and Mr Pennington, both veteran actors with ample Shakespearean experience, clarify the reversals of thought with judicious pauses and delicate emphases of phrasing, so that each image is softly underlined, each metaphor etched clearly in the theatrical space.

Many of the most celebrated and anthologized poems are present. In the opening section, devoted to the depredations of time, Ms Parry and Mr Pennington only minimally interact, as each ruminates in private on the persistence of regret (“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought”) or the destructive force of time’s inevitable passing (“When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced”). Hearing the sonnets spoken aloud underscores the sometimes unconvincing solace that Shakespeare shoehorned into the final couplets. Their tidy comforts (“But if the while I think of thee dear friend/All losses are restored, and sorrows end”) cannot always erase the darker weight of the eloquence that precedes them.

When the subject of separation moves to the fore, Mr Pennington briefly kisses Ms Parry’s hand before they move apart again to speak of the anguish, abjection and self-pity that can consume the lovelorn heart separated from the object of devotion. Mr Pennington treads lightly through the long lament of Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes”), while Ms Parry brings an imploring ache to the poem (No 44) in which the lover dreams of the ease with which separation could be ended if “my flesh were thought.”

The sequence of sonnets exploring the jealousy that deep love inspires is the longest (12 poems). It also brings forth more dramatic interpretations, the performers aiming their words directly at each other like lovers waging war in verse. Me Pennington all but spits forth the final couplet of sonnet No 147: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright/Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”

In a contrasting vein he invests an almost humorous poignancy in sonnet No 93, having accepted the mournful truth that “love’s face” may disguise a heart turned elsewhere. In Sonnet 90, recited by Ms Parry, a desperate lover pleads to have the cruel blow of rejection land when other sufferings beset her, so the “other strains of woe, which now seem woe/Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.”

Time’s pitiless force and the advancing shadow of death are persistent themes in the five sonnets that make up the final sequence. But Shakespeare jousts in verse with the ravages of time and even the cold certainty of mortality, as in Sonnet 146, one of the few that suggest the metaphysical intricacies of John Donne, concluding, “So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men/And death once dead, there’s no more dying then,” which Mr Pennington reads with moving simplicity.

The last poem - “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” - is among Shakespeare’s most famous, an almost sentimental tribute to the enduring nature of human love. As they read it, Ms Parry and Mr Pennington finally unite in a friendly embrace. But Love is my Sin speaks more deeply of the immortality of the finest art, which may not defy time any more than man can but moves forward in it, eternally resurrected.

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