Review by Andrew Snowdon
110 minutes | Drama | Mature
It is not strange that two attractive young people should fall in love. No story, no play could be built around why two young people fall in love. Rather, the central question of any love story must be what keeps these two young lovers apart.
In the case of ’Tis A Pity She’s A Whore, they’re brother and sister.
And it doesn’t keep them apart for long.
’Tis A Pity She’s A Whore, written by John Ford in the 1600s, starts off with young Giovanni (Victor Pokinko) giving an impassioned argument for the morality of incest to Friar Bonaventura (Leslie Cserepy), which segues immediately into a swordfight between Saranzo (Simon Keeble) and Grimaldi (Nicholas Amott) and Saranzo’s servant Vasques (Tim Oberholzer). Saranzo desires Annabella’s (Anna Lewis) hand in marriage, while Donada (Caroline Bowden) wishes to win it from her (and Giovanni’s) father Florio (Brie Barker) for her nephew Bergetto (Will Somers). But Annabella’s heart, and her maidenhead, belong to Giovanni.
It’s a little more serious than Luke kissing Leia.
The plot is complex, and although it is a tragedy (with a Hamlet-esque body count) that gets more and more grim with each passing scene, the dialogue, performances, and pacing make it hilarious. There is also the cognitive dissonance: normally we want two young lovers to be united against whatever odds they face; here we are reminded they are brother and sister, and it’s either immoral, unnatural, or just plain icky. One way or another, it’s compelling. Everyone turns in a great performance.
Like other plays of its time, the Jacobean (post-Elizabethan, in the wake of Shakespeare and Marlowe) ’Tis A Pity She’s A Whore has an immense cast by today’s standards—over a dozen speaking roles (not all of which I’ve mentioned in the synopsis) and only one actor doubling as two characters (Will Somers, wielding a firehose of comic relief as Bergetto and the Godfather-like Cardinal). Each is extremely competent, and although there are too many good scenes to list all of them, I will single out Friar Bonaventura’s chastisement and beration of Annabella as a particularly riveting moment.
The Bronfman Amphitheatre is an outdoor space, with concrete semicircular seating. Although the performing company offers “cushions” (burlap sacks) for rent during the performance—on a sliding scale based on dirty jokes—nothing short of an actual cushion will make much of a difference; there is no back support and you are sitting on concrete for nearly two hours. It’s not really as bad as it sounds, mostly due to the play and performances being so absorbing that you forget about any discomfort. Go to the washroom first. There’s excellent sound as the audience is very close to the performance, the space has great acoustics, and the actors can project, enunciate, and even sing. Audience members seated on the far edges (and there are excellent sight lines from any position) will be cautioned not to move (i.e. get up) as they are close to the swordfight area and may be injured or cause injury.
As these shows start at 9:00 pm, allow extra time for straggling patrons to be seated, and run for the full 110 minutes, it is next to impossible to get to an 11:00 pm show afterwards. This is perfect, on the other hand, if you want to call it an early night or spend the rest of the night in the Fringe Courtyard.
This performance is definitely worth minor physical discomfort; the care and skill that have been put into it are apparent and it’s a fast-paced, funny, shocking piece.
But, still: ew.
‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore plays at BYOV C – Bronfman Amphitheatre (50 University at the University of Ottawa) on Saturday June 16, Sunday June 17, Thursday June 21, Saturday June 22 and Sunday June 23 at 9:00 pm. Tickets are $10.