Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. He sent me this review over the Easter weekend, with permission to publish. So I went to see Peter Brook’s production, “Love Is My Sin” at the Duke Theater in Manhattan earlier this week and, all in all, it was an enjoyable hour of performance. He selected 31 sonnets to be read by Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington. Both actors read The Sonnets well, but Michael Pennington blew Natasha Parry out of the water. He was fantastic! Whereas Parry often made feeble attempts to show emotion by varying pauses, her almost constant monotone defeated her purpose (she also went up on her lines once). Pennington showed how an actor can use vocal modulation to great effect and injected an enormous range of feeling into the sonnets he read. His readings were fluid and sensitive. Wow.
Brook scored fewer points with me. He took the sonnets he chose out of order and arranged them in groupings under the titles “Devouring Time,” “Separation,” “Jealousy,” and “Time Defeated.” He effectively manipulated The Sonnets to make them tell a story of his own invention. This was most apparent in the “Jealousy” series where he had the actors bantering back and forth as if each sonnet were answering the other, even though there were “young man” and “dark lady” sonnets interspersed with one another and, read in context, the speaker of The Sonnets, does not change. As presented, the “Jealousy” series was done well and was fun to watch (Parry came alive in this set). The other series were more tepid, and not as interesting as the “back story” that runs through The Sonnets as you read them in the order they are printed. I have no problem using The Sonnets for their dramatic content in original ways, but one ought to be honest about what one is doing. In the playbill, Brook writes: “This astonishing collection allows us to penetrate into Shakespeare’s own, most secret life. It is his private diary, in which we find his intimate questions, his jealousy, his passion, his guilt, his despair. Above all he searches to discover for himself the deep meaning of being attracted by a man or by a woman, even by the act of writing itself.” Apparently, Brook never got past Wordsworth in his reading on The Sonnets. His now hackneyed cry “With this key, Shakespeare unlocked his heart!” is almost 200 years old, was always controversial, and is certainly not mainstream now. But by taking liberties with his presentation of The Sonnets, Brook is certainly not presenting his audiences with anything that could be considered authentic.
As far as the choice of sonnets is concerned, Brook’s picks are pretty good. I was bothered, however, by his breaking up of double and triple sonnets (I suspect he did not recognize them). He presents the first half of 15/16, 73/74, 50/51, 44/45, and 27/28; the second half of 89/90; and of the triple 91-93, only 92-93 in reverse order. Only 5/6 and 133/134 are spared! This shows a fairly poor reading of the poetry.
I was pleased by the inclusion of two of the most powerful sonnets, not usually thought of as “love poems”: 129 (Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame) and 146 (Poor soul, the center of sinful earth). Also, Pennington (with a little help from Parry–a nice touch) did an excellent reading of 145, a sonnet that is often derided as unworthy of Shakespeare.
In summary, I had an hour of fun listening to sonnets well read. Pennington was a joy to listen to. The production was interesting enough, if not taken too seriously. No ground broken here, just entertainment.
Love Is My Sin Tickets and Showtimes
- Opening Date: April 1, 2010
- Closing Date: April 17, 2010
- New 42nd Street Studios – The Duke on 42nd Street Theater
- 229 W. 42nd St.
- New York, NY 10036
- Ticket Price: $75
- Ticket Information: Box Office: 646-223-3010, http://www.dukeon42.org