‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ at The Rude Mechanicals at Greenbelt Arts Center by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR STARS
Never yet have incest and murder so strangely met…that is until The Rude Mechanicals came to town with their production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Directed by Jaki Demarest and Paul Davis, John Ford’s Carolingian tragedy subverts the antiquated notions of love and honor, twisting gruesome plot elements into a murderous tale most foul. A moral travesty with villains galore, this edgy, controversial production is rarely done, but The Rudes put their signature seal on the deal and make this a night of compelling theatre.

Directors Jaki Demarest and Paul Davis take the production out of its original setting and bring it to the unsavory world of Parma, Italy. 1947. Post World War II being run by the mafia, the show’s atmosphere reeks of the seedy underbelly of the scum of the earth. Plucking unctuous Tom Waits tunes pre-show and mingling them into the scene changes post intermission, Demarest and Davis create a subdued mood that really charges the dark nature of the play. Adding to that devious delight is Lighting Designer Irene Sitoski. Using blue and green low lights to give certain scenes a dark and foreboding feel, Sitoski also tightly focuses individual scenes in sharp yellow spotlights.

WhoreThe overall resounding problem of the production is the volume control. There are clearly moments where various characters, Don Soranzo in particular, have been directed to whisper their lines or speak their lines more softly for dramatic effect. Unfortunately in many of these instances the lines become lost. The same occurs when lines are shouted at full volume for emotional impact, particularly with Philotis; cries of emotion are understood but the individual lines cannot be heard.

Despite the imbalanced volume the production is a success with sharp poignant performances that reconcile the grotesque and villainous nature of the show with the modernized update of the Directors’ artistic vision. Costume Designer Kate Smith-Morse enhances this aesthetic by keeping to a mostly black and white monochromatic theme, creating the illusion of a black and white film, which feels especially ominous in Act II where the scenes blip into existence like sharp cuts in a movie. Smith-Morse highlights select individuals in sinful shades of red and treacherous turquoise to give their characters the extra pizzazz required.

Putana (Lisa Hill-Corley) is an unintentionally devious maid. Playing tutor and instigator to Annabelle, Hill-Corley’s character attempts to turn a blind eye to the incest that happens right in front of her, while still encouraging it. The intriguing silent relationship that occurs between her character and Don Florio (Joe Kubinski) is a unique directorial choice that adds layers of complexity to the show. Kubinski approaches Don Florio with a monotone speech in a manner similar to Ben Stein. This is a wildly humorous and successful approach to the character 75% of the time, though at other times it just feels awkward and falls flat, sometimes even losing his words in the softness of it all.

Villainy is ripe aplenty in this production, even when rolled into the facet of stupidity. Bergetto (Melanie Jester) masters ill-will through tomfoolery. Jester manifests the addlepated youth with a distinctive physicality, stomping and wobbling about with all the grace and intelligence of Tweedle-Dee. Jester’s bumbling antics during the letter scene with Poggia (Piper Ockershausen) and Widow Ddonada (Emma Klemt) add humor to the dark and dangerous drama.

The corruption knows no bounds when it meets Vasques (Daniel Douek.) A duplicitous servant in the employ of Aoranzo, Douek’s only loyalties are revealed by the end of the production. Playing everyone the fool with his cunning and clever mannerisms, Douek gives a riveting performance as this depraved character.

Truly wearing the mask of wickedness is Hippolita (Jaki Demarest.) There is something deliciously sinful in her manner of speaking; low and seductive yet laced with vengeful rage. Demarest creates a dark, enigmatic character that is both vile and luscious, a ferocious juxtaposition of sexuality and pure scorned evil raging from the way she walks to the way she passionately attacks Vasques.

Being the simplest of sinners in this production isn’t saying much but for Annabella (Lauren Beward) and Giovanni (Joshua Engel) their incestuous love is but a drop in the pail by comparison. Beward balances the character’s innocent love with her conflicted soul extremely well, using not only her voice but facial features and physical gestures to express these emotions. Her character struggles over the predicament in which she finds herself; Beward externalizing this for the audience in a fashion most understanding. The chemistry that burbles between the pair starts off as a low smoldering flame and quickly arises into a conflagration that’s cause for alarm.

Engel presents a dynamic portrayal of Giovanni with a devolving progression that ends in sheer madness. At first stricken fully by arduous labors of loving his sister, Engel is simply over the moon with his passions. The physical entanglement with his sister is intense; passionately involved with a furious heat that would make even a strumpet blush. Engel tempers the character’s jealousy with a firm hand, never letting on as to why he has green eyes over Annabelle’s suitors. And by the top of Act II it is painfully clear that he has been kissed by the mouth of madness; from the way he glides to the offhanded manner in which he speaks. A truly evocative performance given, doing a great justice to the character.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.

Tis Pity She’s a Whore plays through August 31, 2013 at The Rude Mechanicals performing at the Greenbelt Arts Center—123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8770, or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.