BWW Review: 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE Engrosses and Shocks at IRISH CLASSICAL THEATRE
Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre Company has chosen to open their 2019-20 season with a rarity, 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE by John Ford. First seen in 1633, the question arises as to whether this Jacobean drama still deserves to be produced. Happily, this often shocking play has enough intrigue to keep the audience engaged. By it's final moments, the elements of incest, murder, poisoning, and deception lead to a drama of epic proportions that grips the viewer.
With a nod to Romeo and Juliet, Ford's story of forbidden love is pressed to the max as young Annabella must choose a proper suitor, but her brother Giovanni confesses that no one can love her more than he, and she agrees that she equally desires him. Lord Soranzo is the most likely man to wed her due to his military position, but he has a spurned lover (Hippolita) who seeks revenge on him. The young soldier Grimaldi offers his hand, while the wealthy but foolish Bergetto is also in line. Bergetto (Adam Yellen) and his servant Poggio (Aleks Malejs) are stock characters from the commedia dell'arte genre of Italian theatre. The Catholic church serves as the moral backdrop, as Friar Bonaventura ( Christian Brandjes) counsels Giovanni and a Cardinal, played by Adam Yellen, proclaims his condemnation of the situation and claims the property of the household for his own use in the Catholic church.
Director Fortunato Pezzimenti has updated the time period to Pre-War Italy in Parma, without much effect positive or negative. His deft hand paces the action well, despite an overly long expository first act. The shear nature of an incestuous marriage is shocking enough, and Ford does not stop there in his desire to jar the audience's sensibilities. But in using incest as a central theme, he prepares the viewer for other unthinkable acts that truly heighten the drama.
Jeremy Kreuzer is Giovanni, and brings a youthful and earnest portrayal of the lovesick brother. Kreuzer's multi-layered performance is full of soul searching as he grapples with his desirous feelings, but morphs to crazed lover. He is asked to perform a mad scene that would rival that of grand opera's "Lucia di Lammermoor," and he handles this with great conviction. Anna Krempholtz is the object of everyone's desires, the fair Annabella. She brings a self assured nature that almost convinces the audience she is able to love her brother as well as take a husband. Ms. Krempholtz is lovely to watch, but her future comes to a crashing end as her new husband learns of her forbidden love.
Adriano Gatto gives a winning performance as Lord Soranzo, dashing and fully in control. He dominates his scenes, as he should, and brings some great physicality to the drama in the second act, causing audible gasps at his handling of his new bride. Rolando Martin Gomez is Soranzo's man servant, who becomes an integral character as he is manipulated by Hippolita to take Soranzo down. Mr. Gomez dives into the meaty role, clearly enjoying the twists and turns that Ford has written for him.
Aleks Malejs is delightfully conniving as the evil Hippolita, oozing a seductiveness to conceal her inner demons. She effectively leads the trio of dancers who entertain at Annabella's wedding in a sinuous dance of love.
Charmagne Chi brings levity to the play, as the tutor and confidante to Annabella, whose own comical name is Putana (meaning whore in Italian). Despite some very unflattering costuming, Chi's bubbling personality is endearing as she attempts to protect the young lovers, but her chatty nature leads to her ultimate demise.
The simplistic set by David Dwyer provided a multi level playing area, but could have benefited from a few more regal trappings.
Irish Classical Theatre has essentially unearthed a riveting drama that at first glance may seem like a dated piece of melodrama, but has instead been presented in a thoughtful production that engrosses the audience. Such programming is to be lauded.
'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE plays at Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre Company through October 13, 2019. Contact irishclassical.com for more information.