Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ at Brave Spirits Theatre

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Brave Spirits Theatre (BST) has recently opened two productions, performing in tandem, to present what they refer to in their press release as “Theatre for the Game of Thrones fan.” Calling this combo of 17th Century productions “The Incest Rep”, BST has taken on John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, along with Frances Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Jacobean drama A King and No King. Both of these works deal with the taboo of incest but in very different ways. A King and No King is still on my “to see” list, but I did have the immense pleasure of taking in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

Comparing Ford’s play to the murderous, shocking, bloody, incestuous, corrupt, deceptive, and “love the bad guy” Game of Thrones is really a spot-on description for someone unfamiliar with the work. BST’s own mission statement explains the importance of featuring plays such as these:

Brave Spirits Theatre is dedicated to plays from the era of verse and violence which contrast the baseness of humanity with the elegance of poetry. By staging dark, visceral, intimate productions of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, many of which are forgotten works or rarely produced gems, BST strives to tear down the perception of these plays as proper and intellectual and instead use them to explore the boundaries of acceptable human behavior.

BST is true to their goal and brings Ford’s tragedy to life, illustrating the complexity of right and wrong, the vices of the need for revenge, and the destruction people are capable of inflicting on each other in the name of love.

Ian Blackwell Rogers and Briana Manente in ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Photo by Claire Kimball.

Tis Pity She’s a Whore immediately begins with tragedy as the audience learns that Giovanni, played by Danny Cackley, is in love with his sister, Annabella, played by Jenna Berk. To complicate matters, their father, Florio (Darren Marquardt), is dead set on marrying Annabella off to one of her three suitors: the bland Grimaldi (Erik Harrison), the deceitful Soranzo (Ian Blackwell Rogers), and the adorable buffoon, Bergetto (Brandan Edward Kennedy).

Adding to the drama is the spurned lover of Soranzo, Hippolita (Rebecca Ellis), who seeks vengeance on Soranzo for ruining her, and Hippolita’s husband, Richardetto (Gary DuBreuil). The audience is told that Richardetto has died at sea, but he shows up disguised as a doctor and plots his own revenge on Soranzo.

There commences a barrage of mistaken identities, plot twists, unlikely allies, and betrayals. The pace is fast and the cast is incredible. Cackley and Berk, as the sibling lovers are perfect together and it is their intentions alone that seem to come from a place of pure love. They know they are wrong and mean no one harm, but are unable to deny the connection they share.

Kathyryn Zoerb does a stand-out job in dual roles as Annabella’s tutoress, Putana, and Richardetto’s niece, Philotis. Putana is sharp, witty, and blunt, suitably fitted with a flask hidden in her boot. She struts the stage and advises Annabella against decorum.

Philotis, on the other hand is simple and demure, with her movements as small her personality. Zoerb’s ability to jump from one character to the other (not to mention the quick changes necessary) was fascinating to watch. Rounding out the cast were Lisa Hill-Corley as the foolish Bergetto’s aunt, Donada, and Alison Talvacchio as Bergetto’s servant, Poggio. Kennedy’s Bergetto was downright adorable and his dynamic with Talvacchio was a nice respite from the gravity of the material.

And lastly, but certainly not least, was Vasgues (Briana Manente) servant to Roger’s Soranzo. The energy of these two throughout the production was intensely felt. Soranzo is a villain of sorts, for his infidelity and deception, but he is persuasive and passionate, making it impossible to root against him, and Manente, as his devoted servant, is deviously manipulative but equally likable.

Director Charlene V. Smith has done a beautiful job with fitting this production to the space. The stage was large and bare, with a thrust jutting out that had stairs on the end and on either side (set design by Leila Spolter). Jason Aufdem-Brinke’s wonderful light design made for clear and seamless transitions as the play quickly moved from one scene to the next in ever changing locations.

Jenna Berk and Danny Cackley. Photo by Claire Kimball.

There were a few moments when the traffic up and around the stairs seemed excessive to the point of distraction. A character ran up the side stairs onto the thrust and then almost immediately down the front stairs. While I understand that the desire was to be clear he was not entering and leaving from the same place, more faith could have been given to the effectiveness of the space and the lighting to keep the movement less circular. But those moments were few and far between and most of the action flowed naturally.

I did not like the placement of cups and stools under the thrust. For two separate dinner table scenes, the actors had to bend down and pull out their stools and cups from the skirting of the stage and then sit at the thrust, which represented the table. The double use of the thrust was excellent but it would have been preferable to have the stools and cups carried on, rather than the distraction of everyone bending down to retrieve and then replace their stools at the scene’s end. Maybe logistically, carrying the items on was not possible, then perhaps the bending down could be choreographed in such a way to look more unison and less awkward. But this is one small quibble in the scale of the production.

It should be emphasized that the material is not for the faint of heart. There are some incredible fights to bloody ends and gruesome altercations that get your heart racing, brilliantly directed by Casey Kaleba. I will not give anything away, but I may have let out an audible gasp many times over.

Music Director Zach Roberts and Dance Choreographer Alison Talvacchio created a few short, haunting numbers, using modern music reimagined to suit the show. BST explains in the program that it was the norm for productions in Shakespeare’s era to incorporate costumes and music that was more culturally current and not necessarily historically accurate to the time period of the play. Three ladies of the production sang Lady Gaga’s “I Want Your Love” wearing white veils covering their faces and the familiarity of the lyrics adds a layer of relatability to the already captivating production.

Adding to the overall dark and sinister feel of the play was incredible makeup design (Briana Manante) and costume design (Adalia Tonneyck). Dramaturg Claire Kimball must also be given accolades for her role in molding the show.

Brave Spirits Theatre has created a gruesome and emotionally gripping production of Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

Between the talent of the creative team and the acting strength of the cast, this is one stellar production. The rich and poetic language is beautifully spoken and carries the audience through this tragic tale of doomed love, vengeance, and duplicity. Steel your heart and go see this production.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore plays through April 23, 2017 at Brave Spirits Theatre performing at The Lab at Convergence – 1819 North Quaker Lane, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase them online.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore by John Ford. Director: Charlene V. Smith. Featuring: Jenna Berk, Danny Cackley, Gary DuBreuil, Rebecca Ellis, Erik Harrison, Lisa Hill-Corley, Brendan Edward Kennedy, Darren Marquardt, Briana Manente, Ian Blackwell Rogers, Alison Talvacchio, and Kathryn Zoerb. Costume design: Adalia Tonneyck. Set design: Leila Spolter. Lighting design: Jason Aufdem-Brinke. Music director: Zach Roberts. Fight & blood director: Casey Kaleba. Fight captain: Danny Cackley. Dance choreography: Alison Talvacchio. Dramaturg: Claire Kimball. Stage manager: Deborah Gur. Produced by Brave Spirits Theatre

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