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REVIEW: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ proves bloody good

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Incest and murder drives a 1630s tragedy at BAM

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Quite a lurid play back in its original 1630s day and scarcely less so now, “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” offers a remarkably sympathetic look at a devoted brother and sister who fall in love with each other.

Britain’s always distinctive Cheek by Jowl troupe presents the tragedy in a highly effective production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater through this Saturday.

Set in Italy, playwright John Ford’s story is fairly complicated, but essentially the physically incestuous if oddly pure-minded relationship between teenagers Annabella and Giovanni ends miserably in death for them as well as several others. The text has been trimmed sharply and shaped into an intermission-free two hours that fly along rapidly.

Director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod dress the actors in dark modern clothes and situates them in Annabella’s stylized blood-red bedroom dominated by a blood-red mattress and box spring at its center. Such sanguinary décor speaks to the gore that overwhelms the final scenes. A door leading to a white-tiled bathroom occasionally opens to partly reveal more horrors.

Stylized choreography and several striking bursts of surreal activity – notably a green-shaded nightmare of coupling people literally making beasts of bare backs – create a decadent, at times even frenzied atmosphere that contrasts against the intense yet relatively tender scenes between the siblings. Pulsing music by Nick Powell blends with liturgical music to further the unsettling mood of the production. tisapity032612_opt

Both looking pitifully young, Lydia Wilson and Jack Gordon fervently depict Annabella and Giovanni. Suzanne Burden portrays a fatally designing widow with an angry smile and a seething nature. Laurence Spellman as a murderously trusty servant, Jack Hawkins as his dashing employer, Lizzie Hopley as a Cockney-accented maid and David Collings as the teenagers’ fond, chuckling father offers other noteworthy turns among the 12-member ensemble.

“’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” continues through March 31 at the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. Call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.

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