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''Tis Pity She's a Whore'

Not everything in 7 Towers' staging of this revenge tragedy works, but the production has heart

Reviewed by Jillian Owens, Fri., July 6, 2012

Exhibitionism
Photo courtesy of Christopher Loveless

''Tis Pity She's a Whore'

The Cathedral of Junk, 4422 Lareina
www.facebook.com/7Towers
Through July 15
Running Time: 2 hr., 20 min.

Sheesh, what a title! How do you tell your mother-in-law you're going to the theatre tonight to watch 'Tis Pity She's a Whore? And if you get over the title, there's the subject matter. It sounds like a comedy, right? It has to be some kind of old-fashioned, high-octane musical with kicks and fishnets and silly sexual mishaps. Surely Patti LuPone starred in the original Broadway cast. Right?

Wrong. The "she" of John Ford's Renaissance verse play is Annabella, the most eligible bachelorette in all of Parma, who rejects a litany of wealthy, good-looking suitors because the guy she loves the most just happens to be her brother, Giovanni. And he's head over heels for her, too, in spite of forceful condemnation from his mentor, Friar Bonaventura. Annabella's playful maid, on the other hand, encourages love for love's sake, and before the siblings know it, they're careening down a dangerous road: the consummation of their incestuous relationship.

In the 7 Towers Theatre Company production of this rarely seen play (actually, the American Shakespeare Center brought its touring version to Austin last January), Parma is a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the inevitable tragic consequences of the siblings' relationship are not only immoral in churchmen's eyes, but also a crime against humanity's anguished bid for survival. Overall, the production's design upholds director Christina Gutierrez's concept: Vince Hannemann's South Austin Cathedral of Junk looms behind the tireless actors as a testament to what theocracy in a ruined world might look like, and haphazard costumes from Sally Ziegler seem to be salvaged from the wreckage. Michael Boss' original compositions make the whole thing feel like a really good B-grade horror flick, forewarning the characters' impending death and destruction.

The play's ending will shock even the most experienced connoisseur of Renaissance tragedies – my reaction was something like, "Damn. Didn't see that coming." The last scene is something of a doozy, and hits especially hard because of the cast's excellent timing and relentless energy. It was one of those special moments when I completely lost myself in theatre and abandoned my critical edge – even the mosquitoes and sticky heat ceased to faze me. Unfortunately, the production didn't manage to consistently force me underwater in deep theatrical obsession. Most actors play at least two substantial roles, often frantically swapping costume pieces between scenes. The doubling works well in some cases (Sam Mercer and Travis Bedard are particularly compelling), but is confusing and exhausting in others. Furthermore, though the Cathedral provides ample stage space and plenty of levels, the staging often feels forced and repetitive. But by the time 'Tis Pity winds down to its horrible, wretched end, none of that really matters, because this production truly has heart.

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