Touted as a being "Romeo and Juliet" on speed, the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Kennedy Theatre production of "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," written by Jacobean playwright John Ford, keeps the audience spellbound as it revels in farce, black comedy, violence, and riveting eroticism.
Although written in the early 1600s, 'Tis Pity's incestuous tale steeped in lies, betrayal, and murder has lost none of its fire. It is shocking and compelling even today. In addition, director Dennis Carroll, professor and chair of the UHM theatre department, has changed the setting from 1628 to 1983, a decision that brings a completely new level to the production.
"Through the 1980s costuming and pop music, with their suggestion of shrug-off morality and ideological dislocation, the original Jacobean language and the events of the plot itself evoke the dark splendors and savagery of Ford's Renaissance world," said Carroll.
'Tis Pity focuses on a doomed family that crumbles to pieces due to the sexual whims of its star-crossed lovers. Giovanni (Jonathan Dwight Shigeo Egged) passionately loves his sister Annabella (Cindy Beth Davis) and ignores the cultural norms that prevent them from being together.
Early on in the play, Giovanni reveals his feelings to his sister, who freely admits that she too feels the stirrings of love. A sexual affair quickly ensues. Annabella pledges she will remain true to her brother and scorn the slew of suitors who seek her hand in marriage. When she is ultimately forced to marry one of her more persistent wooers, Giovanni's heart fills with rage and jealousy and it leads to a bloody ending typical of a Renaissance drama.
Egged turns in a solid performance as a young man riddled with love, lust and anger. The energy and dynamic power that he brings to the stage is inspiring.
Davis, on the other hand, is quite flat in comparison. She twitters and flits about the stage going through the motions like a reject from Dawson's Creek. 'Tis definitely a pity.
The most enjoyable and memorable moments of the show came from the supporting actors. Alvin Chan, as the flamboyant Bergetto, had the audience in stitches with sharp comedic skills that would make Laurel and Hardy green with envy. Taurie Kinoshita steps into the role of Putana, Annabella's guardian, with ease and brings a refreshing dose of honesty to the show. The cool and wickedly slick Vasques is brilliantly brought to life by Norman Munoz. And, with her signature flame-red tresses, Danel Verdugo brings the "lusty widow" Hippolita to the forefront whenever she appears. The scenes between Munoz and Verdugo are some of the best in the play.
With such strong actors in lead and supporting roles, it is unfortunate that the ensemble is weak and clumsy. At times, it was even laughable. For example, the reception scene features a song and dance number, although not meant to be funny, had audience members snickering in their seats.
All in all,"'Tis Pity She's a Whore" is a definite "must-see." It is the first non-Shakespearean play of its period ever to be staged in Kennedy theatre and it is an opportunity that should not be missed.
The remaining shows of this feature are Dec. 11-13 at 8 p.m., and a matinee on Sunday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. For more information, call the Kennedy Theatre Box Office at 956-7655 (v/t).