Feed the Herd Theatre Company, in association with the Chashama Experimental Theatre, have teamed up to present the mother of all Jacobean tragedies, John Ford's epic Tis Pity She's a Whore in a way that was meant to shift perspectives in character, story and point of view.
Their gimmick with this production was that it has been reimagined by its director, Emanuel Bocchieri, into a burlesque-style farce that interpolates bits of commedia dell'arte, pulsating live rock music, and a highly physical staging to tell its tale of incestuous, brother-sister love and the horrifying repercussions that radiate from their affair.
But while there was much to admire in Bocchieri's ballsy staging, as well as moments of laugh-out-loud, fall-on-the-floor mirth, this was one of those productions where the concept was imposed on a rather inflexible text. Yes, Ford does provide moments of hilarity in his script, particularly the scenes involving the foolish Bergetto and his equally inept sidekick Poggio (played by Mike Weiss and Ben Sandomir, two gifted comedians who nevertheless quickly wore out their welcome with their outrageously over-the-top performances). But there is no getting around the fact that as events in the script get more and more horrific, with bodies piling up as fast as snowflakes in a blizzard (no less than seven principal characters end up poisoned, blinded, burned at the stake, stabbed, , or disemboweled, or fall victim to heart attacks), there is less and less that is organically funny, and Bocchieri's concept could not be sustained. By the end of the first act, the show was left rudderless in a sea of blood and corpses, without a clear vision of where it really was, wanted or needed to be going. In the end, there were nervous giggles replacing the genuine laughter that filled the first act, giggles that were in all the right places for all the wrong reasons.
Likewise, the performances of the huge cast were uneven, the most consistently good work coming from the excellent Kevin Kaine as the vengefully prissy cuckold Soranzo, Happy McPartlin as a slutty, used nanny, the aptly named Putana, and Matt Hanley as a sinisterly energetic Grimaldi. In the central roles of the incestuous lovers, Giovanni and Annabella, Danny Dempsey was too cutely nerdy for words, while Anne Winkles was a pretty, white-clad cipher. Neither one of them seemed remotely interested in the other, which defeated the purpose of Ford's intentions and tipped the balance of the play to the farcical at precisely the moments when it is at its most serious.
Where Bocchieri excelled was in the physical. Extraordinarily exciting stage pictures abounded throughout, and the whole production moved with the grace and precision of a well-staged musical. Eva Hageman's colorful, Runyonesque-flavored costumes were singularly appropriate to the concept and were allowed to dominate Tom Lee's apricot-and-blue proscenium within a proscenium set. Douglas Filomena did an extraordinary job lighting the work, using shadowy blues and bright ambers to stunning effect.
Bocchieri and company are to lauded for their daring -- at least they tried something different, and if it wasn't successful at least it was never boring, and quite frequently very funny. A failure perhaps, but a noble one.
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita