'Tis Pity She's a Whore is shocking, sensuous, and spellbinding.
Under the helm of director Sarah Shippobotham and with the well-rehearsed cast of the University of Utah's Department of Theatre, it's a helluva good evening of theater.
The show has heart. That's a bloody heart ripped from the body of the nubile Annabella following the torrid love affair with her brother Giovanni.
With incest as the primary subject, 'Tis Pity remains one of the most controversial works in literature, even after 400 years. Among the play's other topics are vengeance, greed, and murder. The final murder of the evening is Annabella's by Giovanni. Annabella's new husband learns that the baby she is carrying is Giovanni's. It is Annabella's heart that Giovanni carries in his hand after he has murdered her.
The rarely performed work of English Jacobean playwright John Ford is a scandalous reimagining of Romeo and Juliet that upped the ante of the revenge tragedies of the period. 'Tis Pity is also the inspiration of HBO's Game of Thrones, beginning with the incestuous romance of Cersei and Jamie.
As dramaturg Mark Fossen's notes relate, "By taking a problem and intensifying it, Ford shows us a complicatEd Moral world where we question our sympathies: Do we actually find ourselves rooting for the incestuous couple? Should we?"
Shippobotham playfully adds to the sympathy the audience feels for the brother-sister lovers as she cast an actor with all the good looks of a young James Dean. Alexander Eltzroth brings smoldering passion to his role of Giovanni. In perhaps the most memorable scene, Giovanni and Annabella begin their flirtatious foreplay when a large blood-red scarf floats through the air and then entwines, divides and binds them. Then serves as a bed covering when the "hidden flames" of their love is consummated. With Marcella I. Pereda as Annabella, the two actors show feverish intensity.
"Love me or kill me, brother," Annabella breathlessly proclaims. Giovanni replies, "Let's learn to court in smiles, to kiss, and sleep."
The entire cast has excellent timing, relentless energy, and is wonderfully well-spoken with the original text. Engaging performances include Logan Tarantino as Soranzo, one of Annabella's suitors who is her father's preference in a conformist marriage; and Emilia Stawicki as the vengeful Hippolita, who had an affair with Soranzo.
The director confirms Ford's point that society is just as guilty as the defiant lovers by having various actors peer into the intimate moments of the play as anonymous, acknowledging observers. The inclusion of dark sunglasses and a few other contemporary details draw audiences into the utterly absorbing drama as we squirm in our seats at the bloodshed and brazen passions ignited on stage. 'Tis Pity is thought-provoking and challenging, and the skilled direction makes it also delight-filled and beautiful to participate in.
Pictured: Director Sarah Shippobotham