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    Tis Pity She's a Whore

    We're so "Pity," oh so "Pity"

    The all-female, "punk rock" musical version of John Ford's 17th-century classic " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore" is too serious and respectful, and rarely "punk" enough.


    The Women's Shakespeare Company production of John Ford's 17th-century tragedy " 'Tis Pity She's A Whore" revives a rewarding and often overlooked work. The Women's Shakespeare production puts a punk-rock spin on " 'Tis Pity," interrupting the play with original songs based on the text. The entirely female cast (part of the company's raison d'etre is to reverse the all-male staging practices of the Elizabethan and Stuart theaters) is generally outfitted in vivid leather costumes, and a live band plays accompanying music. Members of the cast, led by Lisa Raymond as the young gallant Giovanni, take up microphones to belt out vaguely punkish tunes that punctuate and amplify the play's twists and turns.

    Company: Women's Shakespeare Company.
    Written by: John Ford.
    Directed by: R.J. Tolan.
    Cast: Lisa Raymond, Emily Mitchell, Dorothy Abrahams, Adile Istarki, Kylie Goetz, Kate Sandberg, Pamela Zimmerman, Jaime Andrews, Kelly Ann Sharman, Nitra Gutierrez, Constance K. Zaytoun, Rachel diCerbo, Benedetta Agnoli.
    Adapted, with music and lyrics, by R.J. Tolan and P.J. Cacioppo

    Related links: Official site
    20 West 39th Street
    Previews start: March 15, 2002
    March 18 - April 20, 2002

    Ford's play focuses on a doomed family that is undone through sexual transgression. Giovanni passionately loves his sister Annabella, and disdains the cultural norms that prevent them from being together. Early in the play, Giovanni reveals his feelings to his sister, who admits she returns them. A sexual affair ensues, and Annabella pledges she will remain true to her brother and scorn the many suitors who angle for her consent in marriage. When Annabella is eventually forced to marry one of her dubious wooers, Giovanni becomes mad with rage and jealousy, leading to a bloody ending typical of Renaissance tragedy.

    The lively concept of the production, which bills itself as a "new rock musical," is especially promising wedded to Ford's brilliantly weird play, but unfortunately does not produce a particularly interesting production. There is some innovative and adept staging, as the actors make excellent use of a simple set and nearly in-the-round seating. And at moments, the company's commitment to an all-female cast helps bring forth and bolster some themes of the play — when Giovanni first kisses Annabella (played by Jamie Andrews), the instant is doubly transgressive in simultaneously enacting the incest of the play's story and the same-sex erotics inherent in the casting. Overall, though, director R.J. Tolan's inventive imagining of the play's setting was undercut by the generally dull interpretation of the text itself. Everything about the notion of a "rock musical" version of 'Tis Pity suggests a witty or camp sensibility at work, but the rendition of the play is as weighty and full of overextended gravitas as a staid BBC production of "Macbeth."

    Annabella wonders whether she'll be "remembered . . . for the way [she] was dismembered." This clever rhyme sets the play's grotesquely excessive ending within the context of a snappy pop song, but touches like this one are too few and  

    The songs by Tolan and P.J. Cacioppo are occasionally interesting and enjoyable, but ultimately not memorable, and their effect is undermined by how difficult it is to make out the lyrics. While the band's playing was proficient and sharp, the vocals, by almost everyone but Raymond, are often unintelligible. The play's maudlin and at times over-the-top situations and dialogue are played straight throughout. The production unwisely located all its humor in the oafish Berghetto, played by Kelly Ann Sharman with admirable but awkward enthusiasm, a description that could apply to the play's rendition as a whole. In the play's last scene, Giovanni enters, arms covered in blood and with his sister's heart speared on his dagger like a cocktail wiener, a moment that practically begs for some hint of farce or irony. Unfortunately, the cast plays this ending with complete earnestness, a move that seems curious and at odds with the outwardly untraditional and irreverent stance they take toward the play in doing it as a punk musical.

    In a final song, Andrews, as Annabella, wonders whether she'll be "remembered . . . for the way [she] was dismembered." This clever rhyme, laden with a true punk sensibility, sets the play's grotesquely excessive ending within the context of a snappy pop song, but touches like this one are too few and far between. With its rock and roll framing of a lurid story, The Women's Shakespeare Company's " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore" in its best moments aspires toward "Hedwig and The Angry Inch" or "Rocky Horror." In spite of all outward signs to the contrary, though, the production tragically lacks the genuine sense of fun and playfulness so apparent in those works, leaving it a spirited but confused and unsatisfying attempt. Leather costumes and electric guitars aside, rather than seriously rethinking Ford's play, this production ultimately offers a very traditional rendition. Real punk was never so tame.

    APRIL 2, 2002

    Reader comments on Tis Pity She's a Whore:

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