‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE – At A.C.T through July 6th

A bloody finale to a troubled season

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Carey Perloff’s ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE is a pity indeed. At best, the A.C.T. production is a near miss. Always on the receiving end of bad press, John Ford’s play from the early 1630s capitalizes on the Box Office gimmick of incest between brother and sister and its direful consequence of pregnancy. Ford keeps the plot percolating with a number of up-close and personal collusions, old grudges, revenge and honor killings, and an occasional peppering of ethnic name-callings.

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MICHAEL EARLE FAJARDO (as Soranzo) & RENÉ AUGESEN (as Annabella)

In addition to all the fun blood and gore (Ford’s original suggestion is that the brother cut his sister’s heart out and then display it to anyone left breathing) is the con spirito politico pooh-pooh from the portly priests and the final scooping-up by Mother Church (the real “Whore”) of left-over estate monies from its beguiled, banished, burned, and freshly bludgeoned parishioners. Given the opportunity for Hollywood adaptation, today’s film script would merit an “R” and its campaign posters would color toward NC-17. The play is too quickly pronounced as “controversial” and too easily touted as an enduring challenge – even to contemporary audiences. The problem? The author. The language of ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE is awkward from the title down, bleary and pompous throughout, and often troublesome to an otherwise capable group of actors. Some will argue that it is a true classic and worthy of an occasional dusting-off. This production is an overly-powdered camp follower.

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SET DESIGN, by Walt Spangler – BONFIRE MADIGAN SHIVE, Cellist, singer

Industrial staircases, pipes and lofty platforms are integral to the sets at A.C.T. Without these annoying metallic levels for up/down/up/down traffic control, Perloff would be lost. Everything else is just in/out/in/out. But designer Walt Spangler drags them out again for her, just as he did in their 2006 collaboration, HAPPY END – another pitiful loser dismissed by its own creators, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. This time, the eye is driven to distraction by an overabundance of twinklies and sparklies, a thousand containers of faux candles, rising and falling tinsel backdrops, glittering beaded curtains, and reverse-hung suggestions of organ pipes spewing indirect lighting. The only thing missing are reindeer.

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ANTHONY FUSCO (Vasques), JUD WILLIFORD (Grimaldi), GREGORY WALLACE (Bergetto )

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MICHAEL HAYDEN (as Giovanni) & RENÉ AUGESEN (as Annabella). Production photos, Kevin Berne.

Even with the red and amber gels of designer Robert Wierzel, nothing dims the reality that René Augesen and Michael Hayden are just too damn old to play teenagers in love. Surrounding them with younger players exacerbates the problem as does the grandfatherly appearance of their parental unit, “Florio” (Robert Sicular). Sharon Lockwood’s “Putana” – the equivalent of Juliet’s “Nurse” – is reminiscent of the 1930s bird-like character actress UNA O’CONNOR. Anthony Fusco (as “Vasques”), a familiar and welcome presence, may not be the most convincing Spaniard on the block, but holds the attention in an otherwise thankless role. And, once again, we are bamboozled by the imposed foppishness and predictable patterns of Gregory Wallace (as “Bergetto”). Standing-in for the absence of subtext and thought-provoking staging is the music of popular underground cellist Bonfire Madigan Shive.

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Anthony Fusco & Sharon Lockwood – Gregory Wallace, Stephen Barker Turner, Warren David Keith

To order tickets on-line: ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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