At Pacific Theatre
1440 W. 12th Ave.
To August 20
Tickets $15/$10 at 604-257-0366

If you’re keeping score, the death tolls at local revenge tragedies are nearly even. A shootout may be needed to determine the winner.

Hamlet totals seven killings (plus a suicide), but only five occur onstage with four corpses on the ground at play’s end. ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, written a decade later by Shakespeare’s contemporary, John Ford, counts six onstage deaths (a poisoning, four stabbings and a heart attack), plus an offstage blinding.

A mere three bodies litter the landscape at curtain, but ‘Tis Pity scores bonus points on the gorefest scale when a character enters with a bloody, pulsating heart impaled on his dagger like a fat, red marshmallow ready for roasting.

Ensemble Theatre Company also trumps Bard on the Beach by squeezing 14 actors into tiny Pacific Theatre. Neither the play nor production is as good as Bard’s Hamlet, but there’s a lot to like in this presentation of Ford’s rarely seen, minor baroque masterpiece.

Set in Parma—for English Renaissance playwrights, Catholic Italy was a cesspit of corruption—the play has a complicated plot centred on the suitors of noble Annabella (Mia Ingimundson). The major competitors are young fool Bergetto (Michael J. Unger in a performance that needs work) and nasty Soranzo (Jack Paterson), whose raft of enemies plotting revenge against him includes his former mistress Hippolita (Trilby Jeeves).

Meanwhile, the Annabella sweepstakes are won by her own brother, atheist-humanist Giovanni (Michael Smith), who rationalizes their incestuous love to the horror of his Friar (Peter New). Their illicit liaison is consummated with disastrous results. Annabella has to marry another man who soon learns of his bride’s sordid past, various revenge sub-plots kick in, and the abovementioned carnage ensues, stage-managed by Soranzo’s Machiavellian servant, Vasques (Anthony Santiago).

‘Tis Pity lacks philosophical depth and Shakespeare’s gifts for language. By Ford’s time multiple revenge deaths had become standard conventions of the genre: hence, the need for ever more novel twists such as the heart-on-a-stick. But if you can follow the plot and stomach the violence, you’ll be hugely entertained by this Jacobean blockbuster.

Director Tariq Leslie does a good job of keeping things moving, cutting the script to two hours and whipping his actors around the small space, expanded by the addition of a balcony. The acting is mostly very good. New’s powerful Friar, Paterson’s sleazy Soranzo, and Santiago’s slippery Vasques take honours among the men. All the women are excellent, especially Jeeves as hotblooded Hippolita and Helen Camisa as Annabella’s servant.

Anna Cummer is also effective in a plot-device role, with a great sex scene in which her partner dies a gory death. Then, unlike Ophelia, she actually does get herself to a nunnery, one more way this dandy play takes the piss out of Hamlet.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, July 29, 2005 9:56 AM
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