The Austin Chronicle


Local Arts Reviews

Reviewed by M.B. Rice, April 26, 2002, Arts

Seven Deadly Sins: The Sins of Our Sisters

Hyde Park Theatre,

through May 11

Running Time: 2 hrs

The lobby of Hyde Park Theatre seemed a little different on the opening weekend of iron belly muses' new production, Seven Deadly Sins. It smelled faintly of perfume. Photos of the cast brandishing bright red apples covered the walls, amid climbing grapevines heavy with fruit. Dazed by dancing light from votive candles, I stood trying to figure out if the walls have always been that lush coral color -- did I just not notice? My senses were engaged before the show even began. Appropriately so, for aren't senses the backbone of the Seven Deadly Sins? Sin wouldn't exist without the sensual satisfaction we're seeking so desperately when we indulge. The seven pieces that make up iron belly muses' production aren't always pleasurable to watch, but several capture that desperation behind sins' commission and ask interesting questions about transgression itself.

The show boasts the involvement of seven intensely talented local and national female playwrights, each of whom was assigned a sin by director Shoshana Gold: Monika Bustamante, vanity; Lisa D'Amour, sloth; Jessica Hedrick, envy; Naomi Iizuka, lust; Sherry Kramer, gluttony; Andrea Moon, rage; and Cyndi Williams, greed. Each piece entertains; some of them entertain, move, and enlighten.

In Monica Bustamante's Six, Six, a teenager shares the story of her pregnancy and subsequent murder of her baby. It's a thoughtful, rhythmic dirge heavy with regret and human ruthlessness. Although Carla Witt's performance is powerful, the movement is gracefully integrated, and the language is often exquisite, it's a static piece: A girl telling her story. It might be better suited to reading than viewing. But it pulls no punches and illuminates a painful twist on vanity: As the young woman says of her son's murder, "I haven't stopped loving me best yet."

Cyndi Williams' Beyond the Grave is a funny, deliciously manipulative look into the lengths to which people will go for their moment in the spotlight. Especially charming is Ann Hulsman's performance as an urgent talk-show contestant auditioning for the chance to reach her dearly departed on the show. Cyndi Williams braids all-too-sincere longing and cutthroat competition into a farce on greed that, in the last few moments, manages to surprise us.

Perhaps the most novel work of the seven, though, is Lisa D'Amour's A Momentous Act. Her study of the sin of sloth encapsulates the frantic, bullet-velocity yearning to express that haunts creative people, coupled with many of the obstacles to that expression: day jobs, lost props, even lack of artistic ability to realize their ideal. This piece, directed by Gold with particular dynamism, holds us several times in that rare land between laughter and tears that may be the highest-tag real estate a production can lease.

One could expect diversity from such a disparate pool of writers, and the pieces make for an eclectic night. Director Gold has managed to direct each piece as a different play while maintaining flow among them throughout the evening, and Mandy Galloway's costumes in color families appropriate to each play's sin (green for envy, red for rage), though simple, contribute to a sensual consistency. But what may be most intriguing is the recurring elements in the seven plays. Yes, all of them contain a character who displays longing. But also, three of the pieces revolve around a performance-within-a-performance, exposing the self-importance that's so often the root of sin. In three of the seven pieces, the central action occurs in a bathroom. In almost all the works, whether the topic is lust or not, sex weaves its willful way into the crevices of the central action. Yes, sex is probably to be expected to interject in any exploration of sin. But bathrooms? Well, they are among the most intimate and shameful of places, and end up making an ideal setting for discussion of transgression. The beauty of this production was that through these seven playwrights' perspectives, I saw more new relationships between the seven deadlies than I would've ever thought of myself.

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