Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
For many of us the effort to be devout, in any religion, is challenging. To worship God and to follow his teachings is a lifelong process. Our humanness causes us a lot of pain and anxiety because sometimes our desires are not in line with what our religion commands us to do. Therefore, many people live in a gray area, caught between our baser and upper sides that exist in us simultaneously. This is the dramatic topic discussed in The Sinless, a new play by Judah Skoff. Unfortunately, it felt more like a philosophical discourse than a piece of theater.
Annabelle and Tuvia are a young married Orthodox Jewish couple. Tuvia is a Rabbinical scholar who struggles with his religious imperfection. He is so concerned with living a perfect, almost impossible life, that anytime his flaws or sins appear, he beats himself up relentlessly. Annabelle is more reasonable with her desires when it comes to weighing them against her religious adherence. She refuses to be fully pious or secular. She wants to find community, her main reason for becoming Orthodox, but refuses to completely give herself over to the prescribed way an Orthodox wife is supposed to live. She especially feels a profound inner conflict when it comes to her sexual desires which lay outside the “acceptable” sexual expression that is deemed appropriate by her religion. Both Tuvia and Annabelle are caught in between their religion and their personal wants and needs. While the scope of their religious transgressions seem very different to an outsider, the guilt and shame they feel for having committed them are very much the same.
Arielle Beth Klein (Annabelle) and Isaac Lunt (Tuvia) do their utmost to play their characters with gusto and passion, but since so much of Skoff’s script is plodding monologues and no dialogue, there is nothing to build upon, and I could almost feel the actors working to create any real dramatic tension that should have arisen organically out of the intrinsic drama of the subject matter at hand. Sadly, Skoff misses these chances through long consecutive diatribes that kill any potential.
The climatic scene (which I will not give away) provides temporary relief, because it is driven not by monologue but by dialogue, that allows Klein and Hannah Viederman, who does a wonderful job as Imogen, an opportunity to make us feel something. Finally the actors can play off each other because there is dual action happening.
In lieu of the play falling short of theatricality and feeling like a series of monolithic preaches, I hope Skoff will look at the success of the climatic moment and infuse some of that dynamic energy into the rest of the piece. This is a great topic that can galvanize riveting theater, but fails to do so as it is currently written.
The Sinless plays now through April 7, 2019 at the 14th Street Y. 344 E 14th St. https://www.thesinlessplay.com