'Tis Pity She's a Whore, John Ford's blood-spattered incest/revenge drama from about 1630, certainly made an impression on me when I studied it in Professor Marjorie Garber's "Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama" class back in college – more, I think, for the graphic violence and gore than for the brother-sister love story. But over a quarter-century later I had yet to see a stage production of the once-banned, ever controversial play. So kudos to the Toy Box Theatre Company for its expert new production of this under-appreciated classic.
As befits the tiny stage of Teatro Iati, both cast and script have been reduced. Director Jonathan Barsness and his artistic team have cut an entire subplot, causing minor but noticeable injury to the play. On top of that, of the remaining characters, several actors play more than one, though quite deftly. Ford's humor, however, along with his audacious story and effervescent language, survive well. This is in just about every way a fit and flowing staging, thanks to superb direction, an ace production team, and a fine cast.
Ford doesn't tiptoe around his taboo subject. As the play opens, Giovanni, an intense young scholar and nobleman – fairly mild-mannered, as played by Andrew Krug – has just confessed his ardent love for his sister Annabella (Jessica Rothenberg) to the Friar (a very good Ron Bopst), his friend and former teacher. The shocked holy man counsels restraint and prayer, but Giovanni can't contain himself, goes home, and pleads his love. Annabella, though shocked as well, has, as it turns out, been harboring reciprocal feelings, and after much hesitation, they consummate. Mr. Krug and Ms. Rothenberg enact this pain-wracked yet joyful scene – one of the most stunning in English literature – with smoldering sensitivity and exquisite passion; I felt privileged to be in the theater, in their presence, at that moment.