Friday, December 5, 2003

Anna Bella (Cindy Beth Davis) and Giovanni (Jonathan Egged) are the incestuous siblings in " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore."

No fun to play safe

Danel Verdugo enjoys demanding acting roles and challenging theater. Her bright red mane has made her instantly recognizable in some memorable performances in both conventional and experimental productions alike. Now, in her last year as a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Verdugo says that the opportunity to appear in Dennis Carroll's potentially explosive main stage production of " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore" was too tempting to refuse.

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore"

Where: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, with additional performances at 8 p.m. Thursday to Dec. 13, and 2 p.m. Dec. 14

Tickets: $15 general; $12 seniors, military and UH faculty and staff; $10 non-UHM students and children; $3 for UHM students with valid fall 2003 UHM photo ID

Call: 956-7655

"It was his last production that I would have been able to be involved in, and he's always not afraid to face up to issues, which is partly why I like working with him. He's always so passionate about being theatrical and not shying away from things," Verdugo explained early yesterday morning, sounding surprisingly chipper for someone who'd been in rehearsal until around 11 the night before.

There are times when UH-Manoa productions err on the side of bland political correctness, but judging by Verdugo's comments, "'Tis Pity ..." isn't going to be one of them. Cindy Beth Davis and Jonathan Egged star as the principals in playwright John Ford's 17th-century black comedy/farce about an incestuous relationship between a young man named Giovanni and his sister Annabella. Imagine bits and pieces of "Romeo and Juliet" combined with fragments of "Othello" and some not-so-veiled attacks on conformity and religious corruption, and that could be what the audience will be in for when the play opens this evening.

Be warned, however, that director Carroll has moved Ford's play forward in time to the 1980s and will be using what the press release describes as a "soundscape including familiar 1980s hits" to offer "irony and commentary" to Carroll's version of the original script.

And it seems that at least one cast member will be showing more of themselves onstage than can legally be displayed on our public beaches.

Verdugo (who is not the "revealee" in question) says that "it's not kind of just thrown in there, (but) it's going to be an interesting production anyway. ... It will still be shocking."

Her character, Hippolita, promises to add another solid entry on her résumé.

"She is kind of a spurned woman ... a rich widow. But before her husband died, she started an affair with another character in the play (who spurns her), and she lets him know of her fury and plots against him."

Bergetto (Alvin Chan, left), Poggio (Ryan Wuestewald) and Philotis (Helen Lee) in a comic scene from John Ford's play.

VERDUGO also did a memorable turn as the murderous radical in last year's main-stage production of "The Robbers" and equally impressive work in Carroll's mammoth 2001 staging of "Faust."

She's also gone off campus to explore interactive theater as a member of Taurie Kinoshita's Cruel Theatre troupe and appeared in scripted work by local playwrights, such as Tony Pisculli's thought-provoking "Two Above the Knee" at the ARTS at Marks Garage.

"I'm kind of willing to do a lot of things that will be fun or interesting. I love working with Taurie, and she directed (the Pisculli play)," she said.

Asked which show she'd describe as her favorite thus far, Verdugo thought for a moment and then named "Crave," a Kinoshita-directed play in the UH-Manoa Ernst Lab Theatre.

"It was so different from anything else I'd ever done. Interactive theater is very different but it's still a set. You create a character, and you talk about who that character is and all that stuff. In 'Crave' there are no characters, just letters -- I was 'C' -- and they were just these voices. ... It was a difficult rehearsal process, but it was the most rewarding as a performance, simply because we had to work so hard, and when we did perform it, it was so much fun and so intense."

When the production closes next weekend, Verdugo said she'll be looking forward to "a busy last semester" and finishing up her MFA. After that, she plans to "take some time off and work" while she prepares to make the big move to New York City.

"I'm planning to pursue (acting) professionally," she replied to the obvious question. "You can get a Ph.D. in some kind of research aspect (of performance), but (an MFA in performance) is as far as you can go as a performer."

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