Sunday, April 1, 2012

'Tis Pity She's a Whore: Cheek by Jowl's Colorful and Sexy Production

With modern dress and music, John Ford's Jacobean tragedy of an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister is beautifully staged in this biting and sensuous production by famed British theater company Cheek by Jowl (director Declan Donnellan, designer Nick Omerod).

Original Photo by Manual Harlan edited by Mildly Bitter
Annabella (Lydia Wilson) is presented as a rambunctious teen/young adult bouncing around her all red bedroom to loud music with Vampire Diaries and True Blood posters on her red walls.  Despite having several suitors make their plea for her hand, including the "well-timbered" Grimaldi (David Mumeni) and the "noble" Soranzo (Jack Hawkins), her brother Giovanni (Jack Gordon) convinces her of his physical love for her and they consummate this under the red sheets of her bed.

This secret relationship is uncovered by Annabella's maid Putana (Lizzie Hopley) who promises to keep the secret.  Once Annabella discovers she's pregnant she agrees to marry Soranzo.  But when Soranzo realizes she's pregnant he sends his faithful, but devious servant Vasques (Laurence Spellman) to find out who the father is.  Vasques uses what could only be described as a leather clad male stripper (leather thong included) to seduce Putana to get the information out of her.  When she reveals Giovanni is the father, said stripper bites Putana's tongue out of her mouth.  Things start to get very bloody from there on out.  Annabella sends a letter to Giovanni renouncing their love and Giovanni does not take kindly to this and well...more blood is spilled.

Original Photo by Manual Harlan edited by Mildly Bitter
It is a story of lust and love, and the staging and production exaggerate this to delicious excess.  Giovanni draws a heart on his chest with lipstick and after sex with his sister she too has the lipstick heart on her chest.  The ensemble bursts into dance at various points.  In other moments they form classical painting tableaus framed by the lighting and poses.  With a lot of sex and seduction between various characters, there are several naked male butts, shirtless men, and Annabella spends most of the show in her underwear (red when it's sex with her brother, white when it's her wedding night).  I swear Soranzo unbuttoned his shirt 200 times in this show.  I never saw him re-button it.  But he kept tearing it off at various points during the show.  The tongue scene was particularly gruesome.  A visible bathroom off the bedroom was used to great effect whether it was when our well-timbered friend Grimaldi went to take a shower, or darling Giovanni needed to take pee after sex with his sister.  And I loved every minute of it (well the subplot about Soranzo betraying a widow he once said he would marry was a lot less interesting to me than the main plot but added another layer of dark seduction leading to tragedy).  The entire production was grotesque, exaggerated, and expressionistic but beautiful, funny, and disturbing all at the same time.

As I left the show, some older gentleman muttered under his breath about how BAM has gone so commercial.  This made me laugh.  I found this production to be a lot of fun but not commercial--this is not transferring to Broadway...ever.  I found the visual decadence and modernization served the adaptation of this text quite well.  The style and direction conveyed the class issues (servants and masters were designated by accent and meter), the religiosity of the characters (some Latin chanting during sex, a Virgin Mary tableau), and the taboo nature of the relationship (It's a tragedy.  No incest endorsement here).   The performers were fantastic and worked well as an ensemble.  I liked that the cast sat onstage for much of the show as observers to the action and I liked how the dance and movement exploded at various points into choreographed numbers. This is not the type of material that calls our for a naturalistic reading and I thoroughly enjoyed the expressionistic approach.
 
It is by no means a traditional production but was highly engaging, a lot of fun, and sexy sexy sexy.  It was an excellent companion piece to The Maids which I also saw this weekend.

'Tis Pity She's A Whore was much sexier than Venus in Fur...and now I want to see tongue-biting-off scenes in more shows.  Already I suggested Pipe Dream would be much improved if Will Chase bit off the tongue of Joe the Mexican and spit it out of the Pipe.  Just an idea...

And I am seriously considering bringing "well-timbered" back as a descriptor...

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