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vancouverplays review


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— Michael Shewchuck (Soranzo) and Anthea Morritt (Annabella). Photo credit: Matt Reznek.

by John Ford
Ensemble Theatre
Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St.
July 6-Aug. 8

Tariq Leslie’s Ensemble Theatre has found itself a nice little niche. While everyone else is doing summer musicals (the Arts Club, Theatre Under the Stars) or Shakespeare (Bard on the Beach, Carousel), Ensemble is running three very different kinds of dramas in repertory: John Ford’s 1630s Jacobean revenge tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Lillian Hellman’s 1930s play about lesbianism, The Children’s Hour, and the contemporary British play about David Frost’s revealing interview with Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon. This is summer theatre with muscle.

The last time I saw ‘Tis Pity was in Vancouver in 2005. The producing company was also Ensemble with Leslie directing. The guy clearly has a thing for this bloody, baroque tale of incest, betrayal and murder, and I’m glad he does. It’s so rare to see Jacobean drama in our city, and rarer still to see it done straight.

This time Brian Parkinson directs and Leslie plays Vasquez, the vicious servant of despicable Soranzo (Michael Shewchuk), who has ruined his married lover Hippolita (Alexis Kellum-Creer) and is now one of many suitors pursuing the lovely Annabella (Anthea Morritt). They include dumb as a post Grimaldi (Ryan Scramstad), giddily foolish Bergetto (Adam Beauchesne), and the winner of the Annabella sweepstakes, her own brother Giovanni (Maxamillian Wallace). Morritt and Wallace are completely compelling as the incestuous lovers. Giovanni even manages to half-convince the Friar (Matthew Bissett) that God is on their side in this matter.

Their incest turns out to be the most virtuous act in Ford’s Anglican version of deeply corrupt Catholic Italy--Parma in this case--the setting for most Jacobean tragedies. There’s also a fake doctor (Jordon Navratil), who everyone thinks is dead but is out for revenge, and the inevitable corrupt Cardinal (Daniel Meron), who pardons a murderer, orders Annabella’s servant Putana (Rebecca Walters – the name means whore in Italian) to be burnt alive, and reaps the rewards of everyone’s estates at the end. We get a poisoning, quite a few stabbings, and for good measure a bloody heart impaled on a dagger. Three decades after Hamlet revenge tragedy has become decadent indeed.

Parkinson stages the play in the round with only a few pieces of movable furniture for set. Kiara Lawson’s badly fitting modern costumes betray the low budget nature of the show, but the uneven cast is fully committed to Ford’s extremist dramatics so that only once in the evening does an outrageous line get an inappropriate laugh. In addition to the young lovers, Beauchesne is terrific as the nutty Bergetto. Bissett’s vexed Friar and Walters’ earthy Putana are very good, too. Darren Hales’ excellent sound design provides nicely moody cover for scene changes, and Parkinson stages some scarily effective violence as well as a nicely choreographed operatic interlude sung beautifully by mezzo soprano Emma Parkinson.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is just one of many juicily theatrical late Elizabethan and Jacobean plays that remain in regular circulation in Great Britain but are hardly ever seen here, or in North America generally. They were the B-movies of their time: formulaic, intense, over the top. Done with the kind of commitment Ensemble has shown, they make for a bloody fine evening of theatre.

Jerry Wasserman


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