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THEATER | Stage Review

With a Sleek ' 'Tis Pity,' Rude Guerrilla Turns a Ford Into a Ferrari

April 01, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Playwright John Ford is little known today, but he was considered among the best of the early Stuart dramatists, in the period just after Queen Elizabeth I and at the end of Shakespeare's time.

The play for which he is best known today is " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore," now in a smart little revival by the Rude Guerrilla at the Empire Theatre in Santa Ana.

Though his plays, along with those of his contemporaries, are a little more prurient than Shakespeare's, that was the style of the day, and by today's standards they're par for the course.

" 'Tis Pity" revolves around Annabella, a beautiful young woman sought by several young blades about town. But she has a secret--a closeted affair with her brother, Giovanni.

Numerous societal problems are confronted in the play, from this incest to spousal abuse, violent and bloody jealousy, the machinations of clergy and, perhaps most pertinent here, unwonted pride on all sides.

Director Dave Barton, who also made this fast-moving, very theatrical adaptation, knows the territory. He has staged it imaginatively and with technical skill in the company's small space, particularly in the warm chiaroscuro of Don Hess' lighting design. He has used his actors as a painter uses brushes, wide strokes here, slim dashes there, creating a wide tapestry effect that probably would have appealed to Ford.

He has also been able to cast the play with actors who fit beautifully into his scheme, and without exception seem to exist in the world Barton and Ford have evolved.

There is no sense of evil in the relationship between Annabella and Giovanni. Actors Lisa Layne Griffiths and Stephen Wagner make something disarmingly erotic and unavoidable of their love, and the resulting tragedy is more powerful because of it. When Annabella becomes pregnant, Father Bonaventure (Chris Palmquist) becomes violently righteous about the situation but calms easily at the announcement of Annabella's marriage to the vitriolic--though charming and attractive--Soranzo.

Scott Caster's Soranzo breathes evil, and desperately self-serving passion seethes beneath his charm. His underling, Vasques, played with sincere poison by Jay Michael Fraley, is his perfect match.

One of Annabella's suitors, the imbecilic Bergetto, is a joyous roller-skating invention in the performance of Peter J. Balgoyen, abetted by his keeper, the lumpish Poggio, a placid and caring giant drawn with understanding by Shaun O'Neal.

Sally Norton is a delight as Annabella's nurse Putana (a mirror image of Juliet's nurse), and Natalie Walker's Donada, aunt of poor Bergetto, is a nice portrait of avarice unbounded.

Deserving special notice are Frances Hearn, a raging virago as Hippolita, Soranzo's ex-mistress, and Lee Jalube as Grimaldi, another embittered suitor of Annabella--both performances of power, detail and great restraint considering the melodramatic nature of their roles.

BE THERE

" 'Tis Pity She's a Whore," Empire Theatre, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. (No performances Easter weekend.) $12. Ends April 18. (714) 547-4688. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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