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God, the Devil and ‘Deadly Sins’ on local stages

Questions of sin and salvation — or damnation — are up for discussion as God, the Devil and the biblical Seven Deadly Sins are topics of two theatrical programs on local stages.

The Sacramento Ballet concludes its 2016-2017 season this weekend with four performances of “Modern Masters” at the Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom. Three dances are on the program, including George Balanchine’s ground-breaking “The Four Temperaments”; a new dance by Ashley Walton, “Focal Point,” featuring an arresting use of movable light props; and a world premiere production of Ron Cunningham’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” — of which dancing is not one.

Cunningham, co-artistic director of the ballet, will be replaced at the end of next season, and says this dance will be the last original piece he will create for the company. It has been a subject of his thoughts for “a long time,” he said. He is using the dance “to make a statement about humanity,” which he sees as troubled, conflicted, and uncertain in its outcome.

The biblical “seven deadly sins” are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, sloth and wrath. By addressing each of them, Cunningham will explore the nature of the urges as they manifest in human behavior.

“It will be gritty — and possibly offensive in part,” he said.

In the end, however, if it is like other Cunningham creations, it will be fascinating in execution and hopeful in its conclusion.

“Modern Masters” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (Father’s Day) at the Harris Center for the Arts at Folsom Lake College, 10 College Parkway, Folsom. Tickets are $56-$71. For more information, call (916) 608-6888 or go to sacballet.org or harriscenter.net.

Hand to God

B Street Theatre’s “Hand to God,” which was nominated for a 2015 Tony Award as best play, is a shocking, profane comedy about a hand puppet possessed by the Devil, and the havoc it wreaks among a small group of people (including the poor guy who wields the creation) in a Texas church congregation. Chances are you’ll hear words and see actions that you haven’t seen before in a B Street Mainstage production. It is filthy in the number of f- and mf- and s- words it blasts at you and outrageous in situations presented (not to be too graphic, but it includes showing two puppets having sex in all imaginable — and some unimaginable — positions).

Although it may not be the kind of show B Street audiences have come to expect — and a few did leave at intermission on opening night — it does meet B Street’s high acting and production standards. It contains an unexpected depth of compassion and understanding while, at he same time, often being funny as hell.

In “Hand to God,” young Jason (the supremely talented Ryan Borses) is dealing with the death of his father and the difficulties both financial and emotional faced by his widowed mother Margery (Elisabeth Nunziato, a little more “out there” than usual). Margery has been hired by a not-entirely altruistic minister, Pastor Greg (Dave Pierini, solid as ever), to lead a student group in creating a religious-themed puppet program  for the congregation. The other reluctant participants in puppetry are Jessica (Stephanie Altholz, shockingly demure until she isn’t) and Timmy (Andrew Mazer, a real find), who has been dropped off at the church while his mother attends rehab.

When Jason’s puppet Tyrone assumes the persona of the Devil, you might say all hell breaks lose. Primal urges are revealed, sacrileges are committed and truths denied. But, did the Devil really make them do it, or were these actions the result of humans merely struggling with inner urges and anguish? Except for Jessica, all these characters are reacting to nearly unbearable circumstances. Margery and Jason are contending with incredible grief (and questioning, in a way, their faith); Timmy is roiled by maternal abandonment; and Pastor Greg, perhaps least challenged, nonetheless faces loneliness and rejection.

Getting past the profanity and lewdness, audiences will be rewarded with a bit of understanding about the difficulties of dealing with an unkind and unfair life. Director John Lamb relishes the outlandish offensiveness of the show’s humor and respects his cast’s ability to make the surreal real, but he also understands a subtle subtext of the play, that we should deal with emotional turmoil before it wrests control of our lives.

“Hand to God” is performed at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and some Sundays at 2 p.m. (check with the box office for these dates) through July 23. Tickets are $26-$38. B Street Theatre is at 2711 B St. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to bstreettheatre.org.

Photo by Keith Sutter

 

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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