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ALL YOU REALLY NEED to know about this show is summed up in the title, which works like this: capitalize the letters of a word to make them seem like initials; reverse the natural order of syntax in a phrase; don't worry if the meaning gets lost in the process as long as the result looks uncommon. Following these simple guidelines, Cornelia Ravenal rearranged that hackneyed phrase, "the original sin," into the bogus poetry of "SIN...the original." It's a title that pokes fun at cliche by blowing it up, flaunting it, the way pop art does, as though it were profound. It works on the principle that the inverse of any cliche may well be a joke, since the essence of a cliche is predictability, while the punch line of a joke arises from the inappropriateness of a response to a situation. Rearrange a cliche or put it where it doesn't belong, and it becomes perversely funny, knocking your sense of normalcy out of kilter. But there's a catch. If a cliche isn't entirely out of sync with a situation, it automatically reverts back from punch line to commonplace.
Ravenal's script and David Zippel's lyrics litter the biblical myth of creation with the world of cliches that has since accumulated around the lives of men and women. The primeval couple of this musical are jaded about the facts of life before they've even had any practice with them. Their delight in the proverbial saws that sprout in their minds as spontaneously as noxious weeds and the stereotypical sex roles they struggle to come to terms with contrast ludicrously with the tolerant anarchy of their natural environment. But SIN slathers on too many platitudes, using them with a complacency that allows the satire to go limp. When they can't figure out how to skew it for laughs, Ravenal and Zippel tend to lean on cliche as a crutch, until you begin doubting whether they're aware of the difference between satirizing convention and just imitating it.
The musical attempts a whimsically feminist revision of the story of original sin. But since feminism can be as conventional as sexism, the whimsey--rather than the protest against the myth's male bias--wins out. The notion that God might be a she instead of a he is amusing to play with. And if the first woman had gone by description alone, she might, like Ravenal's Eve, have assumed that the forbidden fruit was a cranberry and have served up apple pies with innocent impunity. Adam proves to be inept at naming the animals, and the simian creature that he dibs "flounder" has to be fended off with a barbed wire fence. Instead of Satan, SIN features a lithe delinquent called Ssss, who is bad in a soulful rather than a derogatory way. When man's ancestor decides that a maid is more desirable than a mate, the first woman indulges in an illicit love affair with Ssss, multiplying and acquiring the name of Evil (presumably the derivation of Eve) as a result. In short, the situation in paradise runs refreshingly amok for a while. So it's sort of disappointing when propriety quashes revisionism, becoming one of the foundations of society after all, as woman succumbs to her proper domestic role and man regains his respectability, despite the cuckolding.
The chorus of beasts moves as though there weren't enough elbow room to carry out Linda Rabhan's distinctive and varied choreography. Nonetheless, a tango in which Ravenal as Eve dances Richard Bangs's petulant Adam prone and a hammy vaudeville routine involving Adam and the animals are striking set pieces which make their point visually and musically more effectively than much of the verbal exchange.
Keith Avery's Ssss is too adept at languishing and might fade away altogether if it weren't for the glowing tip of his cigarette and the intriguing pattern of color stroked over his body.
If woman's will pervades SIN--the first show by a Radcliffe undergraduate to be mounted at the Loeb--it is in the person, rather than the role, of Ravenal. She lends Eve assertive and wistful self-consciousness simultaneously. Hers is the only voice that distinguishes the musical score, with ample range and appealing tremolo. Still, she has her script to contend with and, as Adam remarks, husband-wife shtick inevitably prevails.
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