Los Angeles Theater Review: ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE (UCLA’s Freud Playhouse)

by Thomas Antoinne on January 10, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

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‘TIS PITY IT’S A SHORT RUN

Cheek by Jowl’s touring production of John Ford’s revenge tragedy, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, landed at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse for a brief run. The true pity would be to miss this extraordinary production.

Thomas Antoinne's Stage and Cinema review of Cheek By Jowl's production of 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHOREJohn Ford’s play is a Jacobean hot mess.  Giovanni (a charismatic Orlando James) is in love with his sister Annabella (the comely Gina Bramhill). After they consummate their incestuous lust with fevered abandon, their world unravels as they suffer extreme consequences for their immorality.  Annabella’s attempts to normalize her life by marrying the dependable Soranzo (a solid Gyuri Sarossy), but when the truth about her relationship with her brother comes out, shock and tragedy ensue.  Ford’s play lacks the poetry of a Shakespearean tragedy.  Instead of understating the Grand Guignol and apologizing for the lack of heightened language, Director Declan Donnellan and Company lean into the sensational theatricality of John Ford’s disturbing script. The result is a dreamscape turned brilliant nightmare.

Thomas Antoinne's Stage and Cinema review of Cheek By Jowl's production of 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHOREThe Cheek by Jowl acting company delivers consistent, solid performances all around. Standouts include Laurence Spellman as Vasquez, Soranzo’s henchman.  Spellman offers Vasquez’ observations and asides with a surgeon’s incision laced with droll comic timing.  His rubbery physicality and electric magnetism makes his Vasquez the only thing to look at when he is onstage.  Hedydd Dylan embodies the jealous Hippolita with demonic rage.  Part Gertrude, part Anna Magnani, she wiggles and slithers through her scenes and short-lived life; her malice and sexiness seem boundless.  Orlando James and Gina Bramhill as the incestuous siblings are so full of youthful passion and earnest exuberance that they pull off the impossible: they make you root for the success of their love.  Nicola Sanderson’s Putana, tutor to Annabella, is a very naughty bawd.  Her clever charms cannot escape the moral consequences for the woman who enables Giovanni and Annabella’s taboo union.  Putana’s tragic fate feels all the worse because of her utter likeability and compassion.  Unlike Giovanni and Annabella, whose authenticity holds the play’s moral compass, Gyuri Sarosy’s Soranzo holds the moral compass and worldview for the world-at-large.  While he is less likeable than Giovanni and Annabella, he is ultimately more righteous and his frustrated needs all the more heartbreaking.  The production is cast with strong actors in almost all principal roles, but this production is not so much interested in virtuoso acting as it is in an original, new concept of a controversial Jacobean classic.

Thomas Antoinne's Stage and Cinema review of Cheek By Jowl's production of 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHOREDeclan Donnellan and co-director Owen Horsley’s inventive staging is responsible for the on-going success of this production.  Their concept for Ford’s play is a post-modern world helplessly spinning out of control, a worldview that feels like Fellini on crack.  Using his versatile, fully committed ensemble as a morphing chorus, one minute his world is dancing to throbbing, horny house music; the next it is transforming into a Christian tableau vivant divinely referencing Mary at the Annunciation.  Hardly ever stopping to come up for air, Donnellan’s two-hour, intermission-less production has so many brilliant tricks up its sleeve that the bar for excellence is set so high and so often that one wonders if the brilliance could possibly be maintained. Donnellan and Company, however, do not let us down.  Spontaneous dance numbers re-define the acts of the deconstructed classic and give the re-imagined play a new integrity.  Donnellan never wants us to forget this world is sexy, hot, pulsating, and above all, deadly dangerous.

Thomas Antoinne's Stage and Cinema review of Cheek By Jowl's production of 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHOREDonnellan’s design team has the challenge of re-creating a world that must travel well to a variety of spaces, including the awkward Freud Playhouse.  Judith Greenwood and David Salter’s lighting is most successful, bathing the stage in deep reds and blues to amplify the emotions and give the production a gorgeous sense of high art installation.  Nick Ormerod’s set design puts Annabella’s redhot bed center stage and lets all the action appropriately orbit the mattress like a wanton solar system.  Two upstage doors slam open and shut throughout the production, mocking comic stage conventions and suggesting the house of horrors beyond the action onstage.  Annabella’s bedroom wall is covered in seemingly innocuous movie posters, but on closer look, the sly foreshadowing posters are of all of narratives involving self-destructive heroines and vampire lust.  Mark Cunningham’s sound design covers a wide spectrum, amplifying and artfully offering counterpoint to the play’s emotions.  Especially effective is the joyous final wedding dance that leads into the horrific climax.

While the shortcomings of the Freud Playhouse include unwieldy sightlines and second-rate acoustics, the greatness of Cheek by Jowl’s production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore cannot be denied by a substandard venue.  Donnellan and Company’s spectacular production is well worth the parking hassles and trip to UCLA.  Tis a pity there are not more productions of this quality on LA’s theatrical landscape.

Thomas Antoinne's Stage and Cinema review of Cheek By Jowl's production of 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE

photos by Manuel Harlan

Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Cheek by Jowl at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse in Westwood
scheduled to end on January 12, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.cap.ucla.edu/calendar/index.asp

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

PV Shores January 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

Saw it last night: Wow! A couple of ladies kept guffawing loudly behind us all night – but the ending sure shut them up! Gorgeous actors bared all. Some very nuanced, brilliant comic turns, as well as a bit of fabulous singing, really creative use of detailed set, and lots of great choreography. Very powerful. But what was with the Friar’s overt lisp? (BTW, also saw a brilliant, gorgeous, music-filled production at ACT in SF in ’08…wonder if they documented it?)

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