When Declan Donnellan directed ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at BAM three years ago, he stripped the play of everything but its core plot—the incestuous and ultimately fatal affair between Giovanni (Matthew Amendt) and his sister Annabella (Amelia Pedlow)—and the result was cinematic, highly stylized, and saturated with melodrama. In a new revival by Jesse Berger, John Ford’s text is treated with less abandon, and what we have is an almost entirely different play. Much more like its obvious antecedent, Romeo and Juliet, this ‘Tis Pity stalls the tragedy for as long as possible, front-loading the production with comedy and never offering us the sense that death is inevitable; some minor alterations in fate and these womb-cross’d lovers might have made it out all right.
The standout here is Ryan Garbayo, playing Bergetto, a buffoonish suitor to Annabella. Slightly pale, wearing a oversized ruff that makes him look more like a neutered dog than an Jacobean nobleman, he almost seems determined to subvert his uncle Donado’s (Everett Quinton) plan to marry him to the play’s heroine. Acting like a spoiled, inbred child, he shrieks and giggles as his servant Poggio (Ryan Farley) recounts the “rare speech” in which he told Annabella that he loved her almost as much as parmesan before swearing that, if she had a nose like his own, she would be the prettiest woman in Parma. Mr. Quinton is also quite good as the put-upon relative, while Rocco Sisto brings an earth-rumbling gravitas to the Cardinal: in reciting the play’s final line, “Of one so young, so rich in nature’s store / Who could not say, ’tis pity she’s a whore?” his bass may very well have shattered the windows of the Duke on 42nd.
The Red Bull Theater, named after the seventeenth-century London establishment known for its rowdy audiences, cut its teeth on plays like this, with earlier productions including The Revenger’s Tragedy, Women Beware Women, and The Duchess of Malfi. It’s still what they do best, and I’m happy to see that once again blood is flowing freely on their stage.