'Tis Pity She's A Whore — Press

DC Metro Theater Arts

by Amanda Gunther
4 stars out of 5

Never yet have incest and murder so strangely met...that is until The Rude Mechanicals came to town with their production of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Directed by Jaki Demarest and Paul Davis, John Ford's Carolingian tragedy subverts the antiquated notions of love and honor, twisting gruesome plot elements into a murderous tale most foul. A moral travesty with villains galore, this edgy, controversial production is rarely done, but The Rudes put their signature seal on the deal and make this a night of compelling theatre.

Directors Jaki Demarest and Paul Davis take the production out of its original setting and bring it to the unsavory world of Parma, Italy. 1947. Post World War II being run by the mafia, the show's atmosphere reeks of the seedy underbelly of the scum of the earth. Plucking unctuous Tom Waits tunes pre-show and mingling them into the scene changes post intermission, Demarest and Davis create a subdued mood that really charges the dark nature of the play. Adding to that devious delight is Lighting Designer Irene Sitoski. Using blue and green low lights to give certain scenes a dark and foreboding feel, Sitoski also tightly focuses individual scenes in sharp yellow spotlights.

WhoreThe overall resounding problem of the production is the volume control. There are clearly moments where various characters, Don Soranzo in particular, have been directed to whisper their lines or speak their lines more softly for dramatic effect. Unfortunately in many of these instances the lines become lost. The same occurs when lines are shouted at full volume for emotional impact, particularly with Philotis; cries of emotion are understood but the individual lines cannot be heard.

Despite the imbalanced volume the production is a success with sharp poignant performances that reconcile the grotesque and villainous nature of the show with the modernized update of the Directors' artistic vision. Costume Designer Kate Smith-Morse enhances this aesthetic by keeping to a mostly black and white monochromatic theme, creating the illusion of a black and white film, which feels especially ominous in Act II where the scenes blip into existence like sharp cuts in a movie. Smith-Morse highlights select individuals in sinful shades of red and treacherous turquoise to give their characters the extra pizzazz required.

Putana (Lisa Hill-Corley) is an unintentionally devious maid. Playing tutor and instigator to Annabelle, Hill-Corley's character attempts to turn a blind eye to the incest that happens right in front of her, while still encouraging it. The intriguing silent relationship that occurs between her character and Don Florio (Joe Kubinski) is a unique directorial choice that adds layers of complexity to the show. Kubinski approaches Don Florio with a monotone speech in a manner similar to Ben Stein. This is a wildly humorous and successful approach to the character 75% of the time, though at other times it just feels awkward and falls flat, sometimes even losing his words in the softness of it all.

Villainy is ripe aplenty in this production, even when rolled into the facet of stupidity. Bergetto (Melanie Jester) masters ill-will through tomfoolery. Jester manifests the addlepated youth with a distinctive physicality, stomping and wobbling about with all the grace and intelligence of Tweedle-Dee. Jester's bumbling antics during the letter scene with Poggia (Piper Ockershausen) and Widow Ddonada (Emma Klemt) add humor to the dark and dangerous drama.

The corruption knows no bounds when it meets Vasques (Daniel Douek.) A duplicitous servant in the employ of Aoranzo, Douek's only loyalties are revealed by the end of the production. Playing everyone the fool with his cunning and clever mannerisms, Douek gives a riveting performance as this depraved character.

Truly wearing the mask of wickedness is Hippolita (Jaki Demarest.) There is something deliciously sinful in her manner of speaking; low and seductive yet laced with vengeful rage. Demarest creates a dark, enigmatic character that is both vile and luscious, a ferocious juxtaposition of sexuality and pure scorned evil raging from the way she walks to the way she passionately attacks Vasques.

Being the simplest of sinners in this production isn't saying much but for Annabella (Lauren Beward) and Giovanni (Joshua Engel) their incestuous love is but a drop in the pail by comparison. Beward balances the character's innocent love with her conflicted soul extremely well, using not only her voice but facial features and physical gestures to express these emotions. Her character struggles over the predicament in which she finds herself; Beward externalizing this for the audience in a fashion most understanding. The chemistry that burbles between the pair starts off as a low smoldering flame and quickly arises into a conflagration that's cause for alarm.

Engel presents a dynamic portrayal of Giovanni with a devolving progression that ends in sheer madness. At first stricken fully by arduous labors of loving his sister, Engel is simply over the moon with his passions. The physical entanglement with his sister is intense; passionately involved with a furious heat that would make even a strumpet blush. Engel tempers the character's jealousy with a firm hand, never letting on as to why he has green eyes over Annabelle's suitors. And by the top of Act II it is painfully clear that he has been kissed by the mouth of madness; from the way he glides to the offhanded manner in which he speaks. A truly evocative performance given, doing a great justice to the character.

Woman Around Town

by Winnefred Ann Frolik

Revenge proves its own executioner.

'Tis Pity She's A Whore By John Ford

The Rude Mechanicals Theatre Company has decided to live up to their name by giving us a high energy showing of that classic 17th Century guilty pleasure play 'Tis Pity She's A Whore, currently playing at the Greenbelt Arts Center. Basically the name says it all; John Ford's best remembered tale has been denounced for over 300 years for its themes of incest, murder, revenge, and duplicity. But whatever you think of the morality of the piece you can't deny it had beautiful language.

posterTis Pity begins with the hot-blooded, nihilistic, intellectual Giovanni (Joshua Engel in a passionate performance) confessing his illicit desires for his sister Annabella (the sensual Lauren Beward) to Friar Bonaventura (Will Robey). Turns out Annabella feels the same way and before long the siblings consummate their unholy love with the full knowledge and approval of Annabella's tutor Putana (Lisa Hill-Corley in a nicely amoral turn) Meanwhile Annabella's other suitors are embroiled in all sorts of intrigues and backstabbing of their own. We see stage blood within the first five minutes of the show, and the body count starts to pile up not long afterward. And you thought you had to wait for the return of Game of Thrones!

Perhaps to explicitly avoid GoT comparisons directors Jaki Demarest (also resplendent in widow's garb as the vengeful, murderous Hippolita) and Paul Davis chose to set the action in a post World War II Italy with the noble families being aspiring criminal organizations vying for power. It makes for bloody good fun in both the figurative and literal senses of the phrase and for those of you who can't resist a good scandal consider a trip to the Greenbelt Arts Center where you're bound to get your fix.


by Will C. Franklin

Racy themes come to life in show at Greenbelt Arts Center

Sometimes, all it takes is the name of a show to raise a person's eyebrow. Throw in a heavy dose of incest and folks are going to be talking.

It may have been written back in the 1630s, but that doesn't mean John Ford's “'Tis Pity She's a Whore” is any less controversial today. That's part of the reason audiences don't see this show often. Because of that, The Rude Mechanicals will be presenting the show in its entirety at the Greenbelt Arts Center starting Aug. 16.

“'Tis Pity She's A Whore”

When: Aug. 16-31; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Aug. 16-31, 2 p.m. Aug. 25

Where: Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt

Tickets: $17, $14 students/seniors/military, $12 children 12 and under with adult

For information: 301-441-8770; greenbeltartcenter.org

Note: Due to mature subject matter, parental discretion is advised.

Director Jaki Demarest said despite the show's themes, it is wonderful, dark and “darkly funny.”

“The writing is gorgeous,” Demarest said. “The subject matter is obviously very problematic. Incest is still taboo and deeply uncomfortable centuries after [this play] was written. A charge we get, the uncomfortable feeling we get from watching this incest play out to its eventual conclusion is unchanged from when it [was first performed] in 1630.”

From the beginning, the title has also been a great source of unrest. Many theater companies chose to call the play something different, usually “Giovanni and Annabella,” or simply “'Tis Pity.”

For the purposes of the Greenbelt Arts Center, this version is set in the early part of the 20th century when mob families ruled. The plot revolves around Giovanni, who has develops an unnatural and unhealthy attraction to his sister, Annabella.

Demarest not only directs the show, but plays Hippolita, a past lover of Soranzo who is courting Annabella. Originally, Demarest wasn't slated to direct or be in the show. The original director hurt himself as he was working towards getting certified as a personal trainer.

“The doctor told him he was going to be unable to drive, unable to go anywhere and that he had to take it absolutely easy to protect the arm and to make sure he got full functionality back,” Demarest said. “I got a call that day, the second night of auditions, and it was 'Jaki, I don't know how to tell you this … I'm sorry, I can't do this.'”

Demarest, as the artistic director of the company, said she was on the hook to direct the show. As for taking over the role of Hippolita, the woman originally cast had other obligations, according to Demarest.

“Life happens,” Demarest said. “I had originally cast a very talented actress in the role, but she got conflicted out of it. … Kudos to her and I hope that went well and it was everything she wanted.”

As audiences might expect, due to the subject matter, this probably isn't the best show to take children to see. Demarest said she would give the show an R-rating, but “certainly not NC-17.”

“There is no nudity,” Demarest said. “There is definitely adult sexuality, but no nudity. There is some blood … some stage blood. Some of the more horrific moments happen off-stage.”

When all is said and done, Demarest said she hopes audiences who take in the show will have a better appreciation for Ford as a playwright whose shows rarely see the light of day.

“Ford is fabulous,” Demarest said. “He's one of that second crop of playwrights who came along after Shakespeare and Marlowe. … I think we should see more of John Ford.”


The Greenbelt News Review

A 17th Century Shocker Plays at the Arts Center
by Jim Link

When you see “'Tis Pity She's a Whore” at the Greenbelt Arts Center — and you should — the first clue you are not entering Disneyland is the Adult Content Warning sheet Dottie Spivack gives you with your program. “Murder and mayhem,” “adult sexuality,” “incest,” “a disemboweled heart,” “stabbings galore” are some of the promised treats.

From the moment of its premiere in 1633, John Ford's grand guignol revenge play was controversial yet won praise and has traction still today. It remains controversial because Ford never overtly condemns the moral depravity he depicts — the good folks don't thrive and the wicked largely go unpunished. It compels praise for soaring language, acute psychological insight into the darker corners of the human heart and fidelity to the ambiguity of human motivation.

Modernized to WWII Italy among mafia families fueled by volcanic tempers and rigid codes of family “honor,” the play centers on Giovanni's incestuous love for his sister Annabella. Discovered to be pregnant, she is hastily married off to Don Soranzo, who of course discovers the ruse and triggers a series of violent events grotesquely intended for him to save face, preserve his honor and establish some kind of rough justice.

Always subversive, mischievous and intelligent, the Rude Mechanicals show real courage in staging this very successful production.

Excellent Chemistry

Crucial to the play's success is the excellent sexual chemistry between Lauren Beward (Annabella) and Josh Engel ( Giovanni). The honey-tongued Giovanni “reasons'' to Annabella that their imminent incest is no worse than the sexual relations of Jupiter/ Juno, the brother/sister king and queen of heaven. “I would not trade this minute for Elysium,” he assures Annabella, quelling her lingering doubts. Claiming that he “will suck divine ambrosia from her lips,” Giovanni convinces Annabella that they have created their own “paradise of joy.”

Another couple with a convincing erotic charge are Hippolita and Vasques. The scheming, soignee Hippolita is played by the most excellent director of the play, Jaki Demarest. She gets directorial help from Paul Davis, who also plays Don Soranzo, and from Josh Engel, the overheated Giovanni. The Rudes are nothing if not team players — the whole cast, it seems, multi-tasks and does yeoman duty in helping each other. The play's the thing!

Back to Hippolita/Demarest. Wearing a sleek black dress (thigh-high slit), heels, a black hat with a face-veiling mantilla, she exudes sexual allure, saunters with swagger and is convinced she has seduced Vasques. He, however, is the loyal tool of Don Soranzo, who has commissioned him to fall into Hippolita's arms. Vasques, Machiavellian to the max, is played brilliantly by Daniel Douek with fastidious elegance and real menace.

Comic Relief

Desperately needed comic relief is supplied by Melanie Jester and Piper Ochershausen. In a gender-bending role, Jester plays the narcissistic, irrepressible, obtuse Bergetto, who pitches woo to Annabella. Ochershausen, “his” frustrated secretary Poggia, tries valiantly to put a good face on Bergetto's oafishness.

Erin MacDonald deserves kudos for coaching the fight scenes (with help from Ochershausen), which are “beautiful, clean and safe,” in Demarest's words.

Kate Smith-Morse does triple duty as props mistress, costumer and stage manager. According to Demarest, she “built us some really incredible props, including the disemboweled heart, a thing of gory wonder.”

This feast of “the carnal and the charnel” (Demarest again) is not for the squeamish. But it is an energetic, fierce indictment of provincial tribal feuds, familial “honor” killings and ugly domestic violence. Go and see it; just leave the kiddies at home.

MD Theatre Guide

by Danielle Angeline

Murder, mayhem, and mystery, is just the beginning of a series of plot twists and twisted characters that will have audiences gasping by the end of 'Tis Pity She's a Wh***.  Currently in production at the Greenbelt Arts Center and presented by The Rude Mechanicals, 'Tis Pity plays like an Italian soap opera. Directors Jaki Demarest and Paul Davis along with Assistant Director Joshua Engel take drama to new heights, "going for the shock value" but that is the intension of the original script.

'Tis Pity is a tragedy that was written by John Ford and performed sometime between 1629 and 1633 by Queen Henrietta's Men at the Cockpit Theatre. Its rich prose and psychological insight into the tangled webs humans weave, The Rude Mechanicals production is set in post World War II Parma, Italy — 1947. The simplistic set and slick costume designs help to capture the brazen essence of this show. From the start, there is a confession of forbidden love, a knife fight, and quite a bit of bribery — and that's just the first five minutes.

Will Robey is Friar Bonaventura and spiritual advisor to the Florio family. He is the voice of reason and repentance and Robey presents this character with great compassion, especially when Giovanni, portrayed by Joshua Engel, confesses to him of his forbidden love.

Giovanni is a very intense dimensional character. Engel demonstrates this through taut expressions and his body language is fraught with anguish. Giovanni is an "onion" that as the layers are peeled away, so is his mental state. There is a shocking dark side to this character yet Engel plays it in a way that evokes a bit of an empathic response to his twisted madness. His grey pin-stripe is suitable for this character, giving him an image of being put together well when at the seams he is unraveling.

Annabella, portrayed by Lauren Beward, is sweet and innocent until her secret love is revealed. In many ways, she is similar to her brother, Giovanni. She rationalizes that the twisted love and passion she shares, is at least honest — that is her logic. In every scene together, Beward and Engel light up the stage with their fiery chemistry.  Annabella's costuming is pure irony. In the beginning she dons a purple skirt and sheer lavender blouse. Purple in the Catholic Church symbolizes pain and suffering yet later in Act II she's wearing a white satin slip representing purity — quite the opposite of her character.

Joe Kubinski is Florio, Annabella's and Giovanni's father. Florio appears to be reserved while trying to have his children's best interests in mind. He states that he will not force Annabella to marry someone she doesn't love but ultimately his rationale is more financial than emotional. Kubinski shows that this character is aloof to all the madness around him but in part, his focus is his family and fortune. He seems a bit austere in his gray suit with a maroon long-sleeve shirt.

Lisa Hill-Corley is Putana, tutor to Annabella and Florio's mistress. Hill-Corley is sleek and sensuous in this role and in her red flowing dress. She is the true harlot of the story. Willingly, she acknowledges Annabella's affair with Giovanni, saying she believes it is acceptable to have affairs with anyone if the mood strikes. However, her philosophy leads to great harm by the hands of Vasques (Daniel Douek) who tricks her into confessing the paternity of Annabella's child.

Daniel Douek as Vasques is brilliantly bold and exceedingly clever as this character. The Spanish servant to Don Soranzo (Paul Davis), Vasques is incredibly loyal to his employer. However, like many of the characters, he also is quite twisted with his manipulations of women, especially, Hippolita, played by Jaki Demarest. Though Hippolita is wife of Richardetto (Steve Calamia), she plays this role with the upmost class and completely smolders on stage with Vasques — her lover. Her ensembles are sleek and her sultry attitude transcends the entire stage.

Paul Davis is Don Soranzo, just one of many suitors in love with Annabella. Davis' portrayal of this character starts out pretty even and steady with a hint of shyness. His love for Annabella is tried and true that is until he becomes her husband. When he demands to know the father of Annabella's unborn child, Soranzo is consumed with humiliation and rage. Davis does not hold back Soranzo's feelings with Annabella and her response — genuine fear.

Lauren Beward as Annabella, Paul Davis as Soranzo, Jaki Demarest as Hippolita, and Daniel Douek as Vasques. Photo by Rebecca Hranj.

Lauren Beward as Annabella, Paul Davis as Soranzo, Jaki Demarest as Hippolita, and Daniel Douek as Vasques.
Photo by Rebecca Hranj.

Steve Calamia is Richardetto, Hippolita's husband. Richardetto disguises himself as a doctor in order to uncover his wife's infidelities. Calamia brings out the cold and calculating behavior of revenge. Like many of the characters in this production, Richardetto is driven by retribution and seems unfettered by his wife's demise.

Paul Brinkley as Grimaldi — heir to family fortune in Rome — is the brawny hit-man in this production. He conspires with Richardetto to murder Soranzo but through mistaken identity takes the life of the wrong person. This is the character that triggers a bloody trail of murder and mayhem. His dark pants and vest are reminiscent of Mafioso garb.

Melanie Jester superbly plays the male role of Bergetto, another of Annabella's suitors. Played with a layering of comedic relief, this character is likeable in his pursuit of Annabella's hand in marriage. But when Annabella's love is unrequited; Bergetto finds love and solace with Philotis played by Boneza Hanchock. Pin-striped pants, suspenders, white shirt, suspenders adds to Jester's ability to play cross-casted role.

Philotis is Richardetto's na´ve niece but Hanchock brings a level of alluring charm to this character. This couple is sweet and the least twisted of them all. They are worth cheering for but theirs is not a happy ending, either. Hanchock's costuming is soft and gentile.

Piper Ockershausen is Poggia, secretary to Bergetto adds to the comic relief. Favoring actress Ginnifer Goodwin (He's Just Not That into You), Ockershausen is a reminder that there are no small roles. Poggia is very loyal to Bergetto and Ockershausen's character is quite multi-faceted both inside and out. Emma Klemt as the Widow Donada is very poised in this role as well as dynamic especially when she delivers the final line of the show.

The pre-show music is from Tom Waits which is laced throughout the show, giving the overall production a nourish feel. The lighting design by Irene Sitoski compliments space and time using green and blue lighting that brings about a doom to gloom feeling while other scenes are dressed in a rather dark yellow. Erin MacDonald deserves credit for her expertise in stage combat while Kate Smith-Morse is a triple threat as Stage Manager, Props Mistress, and Costuming.

The Rude Mechanicals and Greenbelt Arts Center does hand out an "Adult Content Warning" with the play bill. The incestuous storyline may not be in primetime television, but to date it is headline news in Germany. The point here is that while 'Tis Pity has been deemed controversial since its debut almost 400 years ago, the plot twists and turns are done shockingly well. This show is drenched in danger and deception, passion and pain, plus madness and mayhem — themes that are common in books, movies, and television dramas. That's what makes this production work. It is a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat production that will truly entertain ADULTS and leave you shaking your head as the cast takes their bows.

Running Time:  Approximately two hours with one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Mature themes and content.