''Tis a Pity She's a Whore' offers taboo twists

Categories: Theater

Tis a Pity.jpg
Photo by Diane Mountford
John Ford's 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore offers a slight twist on Romeo and Juliet. Okay, the Jacobean playwright offered a really big doozy of a twist. In his play, the star-crossed lovers are brother and sister.

The 17th-century drama was "considered controversial even in its day," says Sigrid Sutter, one of the producers for the Classical Actors Ensemble and who takes on the role of one of the siblings, Annabella, in the company's production of the show.

"Well I don't want to say exactly how the incestuous relationship ultimately plays out, lest I spoil the story, but I will say that this is a play about the dangers of getting what you want," adds Joseph Papke, the other producer and show director.

The 17th-century play is often read in college, but not typically presented theatrically. It has proved to be an exciting challenge for the young company, who concentrate on "original practices" productions of classic work. Presenting it onstage has opened up the story for the players, and hopefully, for the audience.

"That's what's so surprising about doing the show, rather than reading it," Sutter says. "I think that as readers, we're more likely to look for the tragedy and the lust and the controversy because we expect a genre, and we know its historical context. But doing the play, it's easier to find the moral ambiguity in it--what if Giovanni and Annabella, despite their incest, are indeed the purest things in this dark world? Shakespeare doesn't write characters like this.  But the challenge for the actor and the audience is to understand a story from a couple of really well-written anti-heroes. It makes for great theater."

The performing style will also provide a new experience for audiences. "Our approach is to capture the spirit of what attending a show like this in its original performance would have been like," Papke says.

The 17th-century theater would have been uniformly candle lit, so the lighting at the Walker Church will be uniform across the audience and stage. There would have been concessions available to buy and live music between acts. The goal, however, is not to create a museum replica of the production, so the concessions, music, and costumes will all be 21st century.

"Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences were rowdier, rougher, more free," Sutter says. "Today we've separated the theater-going crowd from the sports-crowd. But 17th-century venues played 'Tis a Pity one night, and could host bear-baiting the next. That affects the storytelling. We hope by recreating the experiences of a Jacobean acting company and audience, we'll get closer to the heart of the physical and emotional experience of the play."

'Tis a Pity She's a Whore
runs Friday, November 5 through November 20 at the Walker Community Church in Minneapolis. For information, contact the Classical Actors Ensemble.

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