"'Tis Pity She's a Whore" at CSUB

May 10, 2007
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, kmiller26@csub.edu or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720, mnewell1@csub.edu

Theatrefest at California State University, Bakersfield presents John Ford's Caroline-era masterpiece "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," a tragedy of incest and revenge, beginning May 17 at 8 p.m. in the Doré Theatre on the CSUB campus.

The production will run May 17-19 and May 24-26 at 8 p.m., with a matinee performance Sunday, May 27 at 2 p.m. Post-show discussions are scheduled after the May 18 and May 27 performances. For ticket information, please call the box office at (661) 654-3150.

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore" is the most popular and most frequently revived play by John Ford, whom many scholars consider the last major dramatist of the Renaissance. Most of his plays deal with the subject of abnormal psychology, a subject in which Ford had a strong interest.

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore" is a late English Renaissance play that revolves around the impassioned love of Giovanni for his sister, Annabella. A series of intrigues and misadventures follow the other major characters as some attempt to court Annabella, while others attempt to eliminate her brother, and yet other characters plot to assassinate Annabella for her adulterous actions. Giovanni, meanwhile, bucks the rules of society and carries his love for his own sister into the realms of taboo. Annabella becomes pregnant by Giovanni and a round of murder and mayhem ensues.

The original play is set in 1630s Italy. CSUB theatre professor Kenneth Elliott, who directs the play, felt that a more modern setting would work better for contemporary audiences and has adjusted the era to Italy, circa 1918. The stage background and props are reminiscent of Italian futurist art.

While this play may contain such taboo material as incest, Elliott felt that this particular work was timely, especially considering the recent events at Virginia Tech. "There is a strong dynamic plot to this play," said Elliott. "The statements by Seung-Hui Cho in some ways parallel the intense and arrogant emotions of Giovanni at the play's climax," he said. "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" also revels in issues of corrupt, patriarchal society and Giovanni's anti-mainstream mentality.

To create realistic knife and sword fights as well as a scene of domestic abuse, Elliott hired master fight choreographer John Lennox, who worked with the student cast. Michael Flachmann, an English professor at CSUB and the production's dramaturge, or textual scholar, commented that the violence of this play "rivals the best of today's 'Friday the 13th' films."

Elliott feels that though this play could offend some people, it "deals with very real, modern issues such as violence, corruption, treachery and adultery, which are important to address on the stage."

Stage manager Michael Pawloski, a senior theatre major, agrees. "Plays aren't always about happy ending and political correctness," he said. "Plays are about evoking emotion and responses that generate discussion."

Despite the violence and atmosphere of moral decay of "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," Elliott believes that this play has some of the "most beautiful poetry and some of the finest lyric writing" he has ever encountered. Flachmann agrees: "It evokes thoughts of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' with its young lovers, forbidden romance, and horribly tragic ending."

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore" also has a dance number that Elliott describes as "in the style of Isadora Duncan. Justin Ross [choreographer] worked very hard with the actors and we're pleased with the results."

Although Ford was pandering to his jaded 17th century audience, which thought they had seen every possible depravity on stage, "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" cloaks a deeper and more profound reality. "In a world this sordid," Flachmann said, "the pure and selfless relationship between Giovanni and Annabella seems almost innocent by comparison."

Tickets are $10 and $5 for students and seniors. For more information on Theatrefest and "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" please call Elliott at (661) 654-2256 or Flachmann at (661) 654-2121.