Friday, December 12, 2003

Story of incest and intrigue
is driven by strong acting

A studious young man informs his sister that he loves her so much that he wants to have a sexual relationship with her. She agrees.

The couple's consensual incestuous relationship is only one element in the broader tale of sexual intrigues, religious corruption and raw violence that unfolds in Dennis Carroll's Kennedy Theatre Main Stage production of "'Tis Pity She's a Whore." Cindy Beth Davis (Annabella) and Jonathan Dwight Shigeo Egged (Giovanni) star as the lovers in playwright John Ford's controversial tale of incest, betrayal, murder and revenge. Alvin Chan, Taurie Kinoshita, Norman Munoz and Danel Victoria Verdugo give persuasive performances in major secondary roles.

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore": Presented by the University of Hawaii-Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance at Kennedy Theatre, 8 p.m. today and tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 general; $12 seniors, military, and UH faculty and staff; $10 non-UH students and children; $3 for UH students with fall 2003 photo ID. Call 956-7655.

Carroll has moved his edited version of Ford's story from the 1620s to 1983. Some of the characters' motivations are more opaque than Ford may have intended, but Carroll has mercifully refrained from "updating" the language, adding anachronisms or "translating" the dialogue into pidgin. The occasional use of 1980s rock music doesn't intrude, although the contemporary setting makes one key plot device a bit suspect.

Annabella and Giovanni might have been able to continue their relationship indefinitely had their father not wanted Annabella to marry and produce an heir. (Why he doubted Giovanni's desire and/or ability to marry and procreate is one of the dangling questions in the story.) Annabella's suitors include the buffoonish Bergetto (Chan), a stiff aristocratic soldier from Rome (Thomas McCurdy) and a ruthless aristocratic playboy named Soranzo (Steven M. Hemmann).

Annabella prefers her brother to any of the bachelors. She successfully deflects Bergetto, and circumstances remove the soldier from the picture, but Soranzo remains on the scene. Annabella finally tells him that if she were to choose a husband, it would be him, and Soranzo reads more into the statement than he should.

Soranzo has already promised his mistress, Hippolita (Verdugo), that he'd marry her if and when her husband died. Soranzo considers Annabella a better catch and dumps Hippolita who then seduces his loyal servant, Vasques (Munoz), as the first step in her revenge plans. (The audience learns early that one of the secondary characters, Richardetto (John Michael Striffler), is in fact Hippolita's "dead" husband who has returned in disguise with plans to destroy Soranzo.)

Soranzo eventually marries Annabella. Little does he know as he savors his triumph that Annabella is pregnant with her brother's child!

Davis quickly wins us over as a well-intentioned young woman whose only crime is finding her brother more appealing than any other man. Egged defines Giovanni as an intense man dangerously driven by sexual obsession. Chan displays his versatility with a broad physical performance in the foremost comic role.

Munoz does a fine job developing the most opaque of the major characters. Vasques is ruthless and sadistic but honorable in his loyalty to Soranzo. Vasques also has a secret, or perhaps two -- the importance of which is neither revealed in the dialogue nor explained in the program notes. Munoz appears to grow in stature as Vasques' relationship to the other characters becomes less servile.

Verdugo sizzles and seethes perfectly as a woman scorned. Her bright red hair and black wrap dress matches the color scheme of set designer Joseph D. Dodd's stark multilevel performance space, and adds an extra visual component to her performance. Verdugo's intensity of form and characterization dominates several key scenes.

Kinoshita plays convincingly against type as Annabella's frumpish and somewhat comical guardian. Body padding and good use of posture creates a much older character and displays a hitherto unseen side of Kinoshita's capabilities.

A giant bed near the front of the stage is the site for the moderately explicit sexual choreography that makes this production edgier than normal for the UH theater program. Partial nudity -- Davis and Egged perform bare-chested a couple of times -- is used in the same hit-and-miss way as in the Ernst Lab Theatre production of "Baal" several years ago.

As with "Baal," there is no apparent reason why some actors perform their sex scenes partially nude while others do not. Munoz and Verdugo remain fully covered during their characters' sexual encounters and choreograph some of them more realistically than others. Davis and Egged perform primarily under a blanket.

And, although Ford's play also attacks corruption within the Catholic Church, it is the romantic entanglements and raw violence that come across most strongly at Kennedy Theatre.

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