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Modern Morality Play

Frisco quake shakes out seven deadlies at Stage Coach Theatre

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It's the eve of the big 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Californians make uneasy tremor jokes as the earth begins to shift in anticipation of what will turn out to be a big one. And high in the sky, like a self-appointed goddess, lovely traffic reporter in a helicopter Avery Bly looks down on the fears and foibles of her fellow humans.

Erin Van Engelen and Brian Zuber in Sin. - PHOTO BY PERRY A. DECKER FOR SCT
  • Photo by Perry A. Decker for SCT
  • Erin Van Engelen and Brian Zuber in Sin.

Erin Van Engelen plays Sin's uptight, moral "everywoman," Avery, who is trying to reform the sinful lives of her friends and loved ones. Each of the people she encounters back on the ground represents one of the seven cardinal sins: sloth, greed, gluttony, envy, pride, lust and wrath. Van Engelen gives a brilliant portrayal of the uptight, moralistic Avery, gliding into every scene with her crisp, bright personality, who is quick to criticize and offer advice. As she struggles to encourage people to be good, she gradually realizes that virtue needs more than sanctimonious pronouncements, and normal people can contain both good and bad elements. Perfection is an illusion for the gods.

Avery's estranged husband, the alcoholic doctor Michael, is given a jolly laid-back personality by actor Ben Hamill. In sandals and loud, sloppy shirt, Hamill is quite merry in his jobless state (sloth). Since he plays two roles, Hamill transforms himself into the exact opposite of Michael, as the up-tight, outraged boss and radio station manager, Jason, who is constantly ranting and raving (wrath). In his elegant, dapper suit, Hamill looks very different, but seems to be overplaying the anger, with every line a snarling roar, to emphasize the difference in his two characters.

Angela Buffington is hilarious as Avery's gluttonous roommate, Helen. She never stops stuffing her face as she gobbles junk food and watches TV in her comfy beanbag. But Helen has the clarity of vision to see that Avery has problems, too, and tries to force her to face them instead of trying to reform everyone else. But Van Engelen is steadfast as the moralizing Avery, lecturing her dying brother, Gerard, (Ben Ulmen) for his pride; her co-worker, the angry, critical helicopter pilot (Brian Zuber) for his envy; and blind date Jonathan (Ray Amaya) for his greed. Amaya also portrays a delightful characterization of a "lustful" man with slick and sexy leers.

Director Paul Budge has produced an unusual and edgy show, filled with thought-provoking situations, humor and bite. He lets the weird and wacky characters romp through their roles in his stark, black set, somewhat suspended in space, enduring the earthquake but not exactly with it. Because of the episodic nature of the play, it has a choppy feel of starts and stops. Still, Budge manages to keep the pace flowing, with his creative staging, minimum set fussiness and a fast and quiet stage crew. He definitely manages to make Sin fun.

Sin, by Wendy MacLeod, directed for SCT by Paul Budge. Stage Coach Theatre, in Hillcrest Plaza at Orchard and Overland. 8:15 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. Runs July 13-16, 20-22. Tickets $12 Fridays and Saturdays; $10 on Thursdays and Sunday. For reservations, call 342-2000.