BWW Review: 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE at Philadelphia Artists' Collective
As audience members pile in, the set up for a preview of Philly Artists' Collective's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore seems more than promising.
When the lights go down, my senses are excited. Percussive music reminiscent of dark gospel hymns is played by musician-actors stored in every corner of this in-the-round production. As the new music composed for the production (by Josh Totora) wraps around my body from every angle, I am instantly pulled into the plight of Giovanni (Trevor Fayle), who's in the confession booth.
Through top-notch acting by a stellar cast, the not as stellar plot is revealed: Giovanni is Romeo, and his Juliet, Annabella (Stephanie Hodge), is also his sister.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore was first performed in the mid-1620s, and it's no shock to me that it is not considered a part of the canon. The John Ford play is essentially Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but with a lot less witty turn of phrase and a lot more incest. As every character is consumed by one of the seven deadly sins, they die a gruesome death in payment for their wrongdoings. PAC's production proves even with the highest quality sets, design, music and actors, this play is out-of-date and uncomfortable for all audiences.
PAC's portrayal of this problematic play is truly amazing. It's set in the 1950s, which is made clear with fitting costumes by Millie Hiibel that shine against a minimalist set. The time-period change to nearly 300 years after the play was first produced works nicely, and helps to make the tragic lives of the characters more realistic.
There is not a weak link in the cast. Fayle and Hodge perfectly portray eager young lovers, and it's more than easy to root for them until you remember they're siblings. You can tell the rest of the cast -- including standouts David Pica (who plays Soranzo, Annabella's betrothed) and Totora (who plays Bergetto, a suitor, as well as doing music design) -- are not strangers to performing this era's language, and make it easily understandable and play up the rare comedic bits written into the script.
With everything else done right, I wish there was a way to look around the fact that the play itself is just so wrong. Though Shakespeare is gritty and old-fashioned, his body of work is championed for its poetry. Shakespeare coined common phrases like "send him packing" and "green-eyed monster." Maybe the only phrase Ford can be credited for creating in this play is "bleeding heart," which is so literally portrayed in the finale when Giovanni staggers around the stage with a dagger in one hand and Annabella's physical, dead, dripping heart in the other.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore was banned for years in European countries after its release, but so many banned pieces of literature can easily become fantastic plays in time. Take Spring Awakening for example, or the current Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The source material for both is dark and was considered outrageous in its time, but is now considered progressive and acceptable. However, incest will never be accepted, and this fact is 'Tis Pity's unfortunate downfall.
That being said, PAC's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is still worth a ticket for its creative take on the work.
The show opens on March 30 and runs until April 14. Tickets can be purchased HERE.