Original sin, written by Julia Fennell and performed by University Theater, is an intensely atheistic musical that totally despises people’s religious beliefs and is not ashamed to flaunt it. In the play, Judy, a pastor, is sent to hell after she has dedicated her life to God. She thinks this is a mistake until she confronts God, who declares that she is, in fact, a sinner for wearing a pastoral stole made of 80 percent cotton and 20 percent polyester. – a flagrant transgression of Leviticus 19:19, which says: not to wear clothes made of two kinds of fabrics. Judy then realizes that the god she worships is ruthless to an unreasonable extent.
This may be true, as many people use religion as a justification to dictate how others should behave even if it does not directly impact their own lives. However, I take issue with the fact that sinners are being rewarded for their sins in the afterlife performance of this play and that people who have never done anything wrong are lumped together with these sinners. I am not stupid ; I know that is the whole point – that God, a metaphor for religion, is ruthlessly ruthless and does not accept. But it stings to think that the play implies that everyone is forgiven regardless of the crimes they have committed, even murder. It’s a funny idea to portray hell as a fun place if everyone in it has just committed minor transgressions. But it’s wrong to put someone who committed suicide with someone who took someone else’s life.
[from top left to bottom right]Zander Galluppi as God, Elma Ling Hoffman as Judy Thomas, Laura Mahaniah as Andrea Johnson, Harry Franklin as Simon Peters and Jess Aaron and Alex Nobert as demons.
That’s the point of this play – that not all crimes in the sight of God have victims, which is a great observation of injustice. However, it seemed like a practical solution for the first people Judy met in Hell to be an alcoholic who committed suicide and a gay man. Most of us in modern America would say that people like this don’t deserve to be punished. I’m gay myself, and if there was hell I don’t think I would go there. There are religious extremists, however, who believe that all homosexuals deserve to go to hell. But just because society’s perception of sin has changed does not mean that all sinners need to be protected from evil. When Judy boldly announces that they are going to “make sure God doesn’t hurt anyone like he has hurt us,” I think the play undermines the only good aspect of religion – that it prevents people who might otherwise to be immoral to be out of fear. When it comes to certain crimes, we should be able to try those who committed them.
So my question is this: if God cannot accurately judge others and neither can we, who can hold these individuals responsible for harming others? Should we let everyone do what they want until we all reach the same destination, death? Original sin throws everyone of all beliefs into hell, which is a happy place, probably because it represents freedom from pain and the absence of anything. It represents death, from which no one has ever been able to escape. Original sin laughs at the absurdity of our thinking, each of us is superior to anyone else, because our existence is so painfully short that what we do in our lifetime doesn’t really matter ‘importance. This nihilism and the knock on the idea of god are what bothers me, although I agree with the overall feeling of the play.
That said, Original sin is extreme insofar as religious propaganda is extreme. There is a Malaysian government sponsored play called Abnormal desire in which characters who do not follow Islamic religious practices and continue to live a homosexual lifestyle – enveloped in drug use and casual sex – are struck by lightning and killed for their sins. You might even call Original Sin the polar opposite of Abnormal Desire. Sometimes fire has to be fought with fire, and in that sense, I’m happy that Original Sin takes a stance strongly in favor of acceptance, however extreme it is. Overall, I think this piece gives you a lot to chew on, even if you take offense at the portrayal of God in Original Sin. Overall, I enjoyed watching it. Everything from the musical numbers to the premise was original. On top of that, the performance was executed as well as it could have been on Zoom. The musical numbers were prerecorded and the actors lip-synced with the recordings, thus avoiding any issues with audio quality, although I couldn’t help but wonder why the backing track wasn’t just played for that the actors sang on it. It was as if an element of a live performance was missing. (Again, what do you expect? The play is set in the underworld. No one is alive!)
Joking aside, I salute the efforts of the actors to make a musical piece on Zoom and coordinate ambitious dance numbers. Even though not all of the acts landed on their feet, it was a pleasure to watch a play that made a statement about the toxicity of judging others for their lifestyle choices. Once you start judging people for alcoholism or homosexuality, it’s a slippery slope to judging people who wear clothes made of mixed fabrics.