Inspired in part by The Castle of Perseverance, a little 15th-century ditty about virtue conquering evil, Wendy MacLeod's Sin is a cheesy though likable New Age morality play in which the playwright reconfigures the ancient everyman character into a thoroughly modern woman. She's Avery Bly, a radio personality who helicopters over San Francisco, managing to stay well above the snarling traffic she reports on -- and well above the pits of bad behavior she finds in everyone. Yet before the night is over, Avery will come crashing to the ground, where she will discover that it's bad news indeed to soar above the crowd, literally and figuratively, thinking you're better than every other poor schmuck.
During the first act, Avery (Rachel Hemphill) encounters the seven deadly sins, each icky in its own sort of garden-variety way. Lust, for instance, comes in the shape of a silk-shirted, leather pants-wearing barfly poet (Quinn Wiseman) who hits on Avery in the oiliest way. Sloth is, of course, her soon-to-be ex-husband (Nelson Heggen). He's a sagacious old doctor who makes clever jokes about the metric system and drinks so much he can't keep his job at the hospital. A blind date (Patrick Reynolds) is greed. Over sushi and beer, he natters on about "the late, great Reagan." Avery's gluttonous roommate, Helen (Terry Cochran), has planted herself permanently in a yellow beanbag chair where she does nothing but stuff her face with Chee-tos and vanilla wafers. At work, Avery's envious co-worker (Jay Brock) wants a better job, a better car, a different wife, anything and everything so long as it belongs to someone else. And her boss, Jason (Foster Davis), gets so undone by wrath that he pulls a pistol from his briefcase as he froths at the mouth about loyalty, screaming, "I am the station. The station c'est moi!" Avery finally ends up at the hospital, where she visits her brother Gerard (Greg Gordon) who's dying of AIDS and who's so full of wounded pride he refuses to let his neglectful parents visit him.
Throughout it all, the perfectly thin, teetotaling, levelheaded Avery keeps her high-handed self above the fray, even though Helen tells her frankly, "You make people feel bad. You're fucked up, and you don't even know it." But Avery will have none of it. It finally takes an act of God to bring her down into the world of sinners, where she discovers just how lonely her life up in the clouds has been.
Actors Theatre of Houston, 2506 South Boulevard
Through December 31 (713)529-6606 $10-$14
It's a childishly simple story that's been dressed up with some wickedly smart, quirky dialogue. But even the dialogue would fail were it not for the inventive cast that director and designer George Brock has assembled. They make the most out of a thin tale. Especially good is Cochran's ravenous Helen, who manages to sound reasonable even as she jams candy bars into her mouth. Davis's tyrannical boss and Gordon's preening Gerard are funny, sad and wonderfully human. While these actors can't turn MacLeod's obvious moral into any sort of surprise, they manage to make it entertaining.
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