The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
Writing for us
A CurtainUp Review
'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Love me or kill me brother -- Annabella
Love me or kill me sister -- Giovanni

Mel Cobb (Cardinal),  Helmar Augustus Cooper (Bonaventura), Mauricio Tafur Salgado (Soranzo), Craig  Braun (Florio)
Mel Cobb (Cardinal), Helmar Augustus Cooper (Bonaventura), Mauricio Tafur Salgado (Soranzo), Craig Braun (Florio) (Photo: David Gochfeld)
A human heart is served on a skewer to the guests at a birthday party at which someone is also poisoned. A "tut'ress"'s eyes are burned out before she is burned at the stake, a nitwit is assassinated by mistake and a brother and sister make passionate love to each other. It's enough to give poor papa a heart attack, and it does.

Even back in the 17th century playwright John Ford must have had his eye on the box-office when he titled his famous 1633 incest-coated pot-boiler of old Parma 'Tis Pity She's A Whore. As modestly presented (except for one scene that is immodest by prerequisite) by Friendly Fire at the Storm Theater, this still red hot and horrific classic is a terrific introduction to Jacobean/Carolinian dramatic literature at its most lurid.

Anyone seeing the play for the first time may well be taken by surprise at its power to arrest and arouse contemporary minds and senses. Although director Alex Lippard is severely handicapped by some of the actors' limitations and by budget constraints, his effort to give the play a sense of immediacy, if not necessarily a compelling sense of time and place, is commendable. It would seem that any skillful director would have to be invigorated to some degree by the play's eternally vexing social and ethical postures.

Rachel Mattews Black (Annabelle) & Colby Chambers (Giovanni)
Rachel Mattews Black (Annabelle) & Colby Chambers (Giovanni)
(Photo: David Gochfeld)
It's a shame that only about half the acting company seem able to address their roles with emotional integrity and conviction. Despite this, the passionate, shocking and doomed love affair between a brother and sister manages to be riveting from start to finish. We are fortunate that the two lovers, Colby Chambers, as Giovanni, and Rachel Matthews Black, as Annabella, stir up a bit of sympathy as well as some steam between the sheets. Despairing in their fate, as they are relentlessly driven by lust, Chambers and Black make an almost convincing case for unholy love.

In short, the plot concerns the ill-fated incestuous love that bonds the middle-class Giovanni with his sister Annabella. Despite her father's wish that she marry his first choice Soranzo (Mauricio Tafur Salgado), an insincere nobleman or, if all else fails, the foolish fop Bergetto (Cameron Folmar), Annabella commits herself to Giovanni and (guess what) becomes pregnant. Bergetto is ambushed and killed by Grimaldi (Sam Chase), a Roman soldier in camouflage pants, who mistakes him for Soranzo, whom he hates. Soranzo marries her not knowing that she's pregnant with Giovanni's child, but when he does find out he wants to kill her. To avenge his lover's honor Giovanni kills Annabella and then Soranzo, only to be killed himself by Soranzo's servant Vasques (John Douglas Thompson) and his hired "banditti" (Sam Chase and Cameron Folmar) in a bloody duel. And that's just a teaser.

Nothing, not even some poor performances, seems to get in the way of this veritable feast of decadence and mind-boggling depravity. Considering the two and a half hour running time (closer to three hours with the pre-show and intermission bathroom lines), the play never bores for a minute. The fact that at times the actors' diction and performance styles lack harmony certainly gives license for some highly individualized flavors. John Douglas Thompson gives the most persuasive, conspicuously duplicitous performance as Soranzo's revenge-propelled servant Vasquez.

Other intriguing performances are given by Helmar Augustus Cooper as Donado, a citizen of Parma (repeating the role he played in the Public Theater production in 1992), Mauricio Tafu Salgado as the sadistic cuckolded nobleman Soranzo, and Mel Cobb as the mercenary unethical Cardinal and also doubling as Bergetto's servant Poggio.

Catherine Curtin's abrasive shrillness as the sluttish Hippolita was as unintelligible as she was out-of-control. This was contrasted by the non-performance of Craig Baldwin, as her mock physician husband Richardetto.

Hammy Jan Leslie Harding unmercifully chewed up the scenery (although there was precious little of it to chew) as the untrustworthy Putana. No worse for the carnage around her, Betsy Winchester, as Richardetto's niece Philotis, survived in one piece.

Mired as it is in murder and mayhem, this extraordinary play barrels along by the sheer force of its inherently involving melodramatics. Scholars of the period would undoubtedly credit Ford for his amusingly flagrant disregard for high-toned classicism. And certainly enough has been speculated about Ford's artful balancing of tragedy and social satire, to give plenty of freedom to directors. In this case, director Lippard should have felt free to murder some of the cast.

The play's blatant almost parodic similarities to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet also leaves room for a director to have some dopey fun with the revenge-doesn't-pay theme. When it comes to dopey, Folnar's flamboyantly fey posturing, with his garbled speech getting lost in his own giggles and his farcical fashion statement -- a bright red suit, yellow stockings and turquoise shoes -- reveal more than anything this pretentious fool has to say. With the budget apparently shot on Bergetto's getup, the company is otherwise dressed in apparel from all eras.

Set designer Michael V. Moore's audacious use of bed sheets strung across a pair of clothes lines and one raised platform doesn't begin to suggest anything close to baroque. In this regard, Lippard embraces the plot's rampant hugger-muggery with go-for-baroque abandon. A birthday celebration that ends in a blood bath and the lovers' tryst rise graphically out of the text and are effectively staged.

My first encounter with this worthy relic was at the Public Theater 13 years ago. Val Kilmer and Jeanne Tripplehorn co-starred under the direction of JoAnne Akalaitis. As this is only the second time I've seen the play, my reaction remains one of awe and amazement at Ford's flagrantly violent, yet psychologically profound point of view. 'Tis pity that this production is only fleetingly in touch with it.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore
By John Ford
Directed by Alex Lippard
Cast: Craig Baldwin, Rachel Matthews Black, Craig Braun, Colby Chambers, Sam Chase, Mel Cobb, Helmar Augustus Cooper, Catherine Curtin, Cameron Folmar, Jan Leslie Harding, Mauricio Tafu Salgado, John Douglas Thompson, Betsy Winchester
Set Design: Michael V. Moore
Costume Design: Martin T. Lopez
Lighting Design: Scott Bolman
Sound Design and Original Music: Allison Leyton-Brown
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Running Time: 2/1/2 hours, plus one intermission
Performances run September 29 - October 21 Friendly Fire at The Storm Theatre, 145 West 46th Street (Broadway/ 6th Avenue, third floor) 212 - 352 - 3101
For additional information, visit
From 9/29/05 to 10/21/05; opening 10/01/05
Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; plus Sunday, October 2 at 7pm; Sundays, October 9 & 16 at 3pm; Saturday October 15 at 2pm; and Wednesday, October 19 at 8pm.
Tickets: $15
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on October 1st performance
Playbill Broadway Year Book
The new annual to dress up every Broadway lover's coffee table

broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

metaphors dictionary cover
>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from