“Sinners (The English Teacher)”: You can’t cross the same river twice

Photo by CHARLES MCATEER

Presented by: Greensboro Arts Alliance & Residency/The Mirror Theater, Ltd. in collaboration with New Repertory Theatre and Boston Center for American Performance
By Joshua Sobol
Directed by Brian Cox

March 23 – April 2, 2017
Theatre Lab@855
855 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA
New Rep on Facebook

Review by Polly Goss

(Boston, MA)“Sinners” tells the story of the condemned English professor Layla (Nicole Ansari), as she awaits execution by stoning for having had an affair with her student, Nur (Ben Getz). The unnamed theocracy in which the story takes place has clear parallels to modern day Saudi Arabia. However, Layla’s characterization relies heavily on the Old Testament view of femininity, women are the dangerous corruptors of man’s innocence; Layla is a modern day Eve, Jezebel or Delilah. Cox’s artful direction places this tragic love story within a broader feminist framework, as we see a passionate woman literally crushed by the forces of patriarchy.

Nicole Ansari (Layla) brought incredible energy and dedication to the character. Oscillating between the dangerous femme-fatale, the damsel in distress and the hysterical shrew, Ansari combined many tropes of feminism to create a woman with real complexity and depth. Cox’s choice to have only Ansari’s head revealed for the majority of the play was effective in highlighting the mind/body dualism that defined her. Through only her words she was able to extract a confession from her traitorous lover Nur ( Ben Getz), despite her body being literally and metaphorically constrained in this brutal misogynistic world.

Sobol’s script was demanding for both actors, as within a heartbeat the characters changed from lovers, to enemies and back to being a teacher and student. Ansari’s performance definitely dominated the stage and at points Getz struggled to match her intensity. Both characters are at times so clearly a mouthpiece for ideological debate that it takes away from our ability to empathize with their plight. It would have been interesting to see greater variety within the pace of the piece, to help the audience digest the true significance of their words.

Overall Nicole Ansari’s potent performance of Layla is the highlight, she carries the show with her passion and uncompromising individuality. These ‘sinners’ chose to rebel, to turn desire into action and to seize their chance of happiness. Layla’s refusal to regret that choice as she finally declares, “you can never cross the same river twice”, is her ultimate triumph over the patriarchal regime. “Sinners” is an intense and insightful exploration into how our bodies still define and confine us in today’s world.

Queen’s Note:
we elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. His plan to slash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities is HERE. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so. Fight him. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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