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Mark of Cain

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Life for Cain and Abel can never come easy, it seems. Yet Danish playwright Morti Vizki wants to give the two Biblical characters a fair shake and let them explore the nature of right and wrong in a modern context. And so Mark of Cain, the new production at the 78th Street Theatre Lab, was born. But, as in many plays presented in a language other than the original, something seems to have been lost in the translation.

That translation and the show's direction were provided by Jens Svane Boutrup. This Mark of Cain consists of a fair amount of heightened, almost poetic dialogue mixed with guttural lower class slang, which actually defines the two brothers fairly well. Cain (Vincent Sagona) and Abel (Michael Evans Lopez) are both in their mid-20s and starting to find their way in the world, unable to escape the fame that their parents' expulsion from Paradise has brought.

But as portrayed by both the text and the actors themselves, Cain and Abel greatly lack consistency. One moment, they are apparently all-knowing celebrities, aware of their position in, and impact upon, the world, while in the next they're wide-eyed innocents experiencing life for the first time. This lack of consistency never gives either of the actors much of an opportunity to create a nuanced, convincing character, so neither of them does.

But Vizki and Boutrup don't stack the deck, and have provided a third character that redeems the play creatively, if not always dramatically. Lucifer, the physical embodiment of a significant number of the Seven Deadly Sins, is played by Sarah Gifford as an intelligent, sexy woman who, despite having perhaps sinister motives of her own, is as lost and confused as the men are, and is looking for solutions to her lot in life just as they are.

And Gifford does heat things up, in a cagey and intelligent performance that - whether appropriate or not - often has you rooting for the devil. She plays both sides against the middle, using sex, deception, and every other method at her disposal to drive a wedge between the brothers that will eventually lead to the destruction of both. Yet such games always come with a price, and Gifford uses her portrayal to show that even Lucifer can be a victim, as well.

The mens' interactions with Gifford are always the high point of the play, and as their sibling rivalry taken form, she somehow makes sense of what is otherwise - in English, at least - a scattered and frequently disorganized dramatic evening. When Cain and Abel discuss their connections to Auschwitz, their logic seems tenuous at best. But Lucifer's attempts at seduction seem appropriately irresistible, because, as she describes, the two brothers are part dog and part cat, humans who have never completely outgrown their basest animal instincts.

And that's when Mark of Cain really clicks, when it makes you sit up and look at a story as familiar as the battle between Cain and Abel in a new way. But this production, despite moments of brilliance and clarity, doesn't reach profound often enough.

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Mark of Cain
Through February 22
Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission
78th Street Theatre Lab, 236 West 78th Street
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 206-1515