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Two plays close this weekend, ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE and VICTORY, looking into the hearts of men and women in extreme circumstances

Two of the eminent theatrical companies – Canada’s Shaw Festival and Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre – are both wrapping up runs of two very dark dramas set in the 1600s.

‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE (lead image), written around 1630 (the time of King Charles I) by English playwright John Ford is wrapping up at the Irish Classical Theatre Company, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, and it runs through October 13, Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 3 and 7:30, Sunday at 2 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street in Buffalo (853 -ICTC). www.irishclassicaltheatre.com Runtime: 2 and ½ hours, including one intermission (full-service bar).

Meanwhile, VICTORY, although first performed in 1983 is set in 1660 (the time of “Restoration King” Charles II) by British playwright Howard Barker, presented by The Shaw Festival, directed by Tim Carroll, has one more performance, October 12 at 8:00 p.m. The program reads: “Warning: Victory is deliberately offensive. The playwright brilliantly explores the use of language as a weapon. It is not for the squeamish and contains very strong language.” And, not mentioned, there’s partial nudity and very unsettling death imagery, so the age recommendation is 17+  The runtime is 2 hours, 45 minutes including one intermission and including a short walk down one flight of stairs to the basement of the theater for a “vault” scene before intermission. (Coffee and wine bar) and you can read the program here: www.shawfest.com

THUMBNAIL SKETCHES: I’m writing about both of these plays together because they share some similarities. First, the time period. For clarity, let’s remember the Elizabethan era (Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 – 1603) is when Shakespeare began writing. That’s followed, with some political unrest, by the “Jacobean” period (King James I 1603 – 1625) during which time Shakespeare wrote his more dark, melancholy plays. And, upon the death of James I, the crown is passed to James’ son, Charles I (1625-1649) where during the “Caroline” era there is even more unrest. Ultimately, Charles I is beheaded, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell sets up the “Commonwealth of England” (1649 – 1660) which lasts until Charles I’s son returns to England and the monarchy is restored with the ascension of Charles II known as “The Restoration.”

Howard Barker’s VICTORY takes place during the early days of The Restoration when Charles II promised amnesty to everyone, except that is, the 50 or so who signed the decree putting his father to death, including one John Bradshaw. Charles II had Bradshaw’s (and others) bodies exhumed, beheaded, with body parts scattered and their heads put on spikes. What Barker has done, based only on those facts, is to completely imagine the character of Bradshaw’s widow, attempting to gather her husband’s remains.

In that she is not unlike another strong female character set in the 1600s, Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE who, with family upmost in her mind and motivation, operates in a world of carnage where there are no old-fashioned heroes.

Director Tim Carroll has assembled a superb cast of Shaw.

Director Tim Carroll (who is the overall Artistic Director of the Shaw) has assembled a superb cast of Shaw (with some doubling at The Stratford Festival) actors including Martha Burns as Bradshaw’s widow, Patrick Galligan as “Scrope” (the name says it all), Tom McCamus as Charles II, Tom Rooney as a Cavalier, and others whom audiences have seen over the years. (By the way, although most of the Shaw’s summer productions end this weekend, Tom Rooney stars in CYRANO DE BERGERAC through October 20.)

VICTORY has parallels in ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE at the Irish Classical in the on-stage violence but also the fact that, at the end of the day, almost all of the action is driven by love.

Unlike VICTORY, a 1980’s British play, ‘TIS PITY is actually of the Caroline era, written by a successful playwright named John Ford. Little is known about him “post-Restoration” because during the 10 years of Cromwell’s “Commonwealth” there was no theater in England and many manuscripts were destroyed. Studies reveal that “his plays deal with conflicts between individual passion and conscience and the laws and morals of society at large; Ford had a strong interest in abnormal psychology that is expressed through his dramas.”

VICTORY Tom Rooney as a cavalier | Photo credit David Cooper (Shawfest.com)

That all informs ‘TIS PITY. A quick plot summary: Annabella (Anna Krempholtz) and Giovanni (Jeremy Kreuzer), brother and sister, are in love, and they do what lovers do. She is now with child, but before she shows, it is decided that she should marry her chief suitor, Lord Soranzo (Adriano Gatto), which causes major jealousy in the heart of Hippolita (Aleks Malejs) who had her heart set on Soranzo and plans on revenge. None of this will end happily.

We’ve all seen less than convincing ‘stagey’ fights. This was not that. This was one for the books.

Two scenes are extremely memorable. One was a scene of physical abuse which caused a very audible gasp from the audience, stunningly handled by, as it turns out, two actors who are also professional fight directors – Gatto and Krempholtz. We’ve all seen less than convincing “stagey” fights. This was not that. This was one for the books. And the other scene? That was Hippolita, that snake, slithering across the stage, acted by Aleks Malejs in a costume by Vivan DelBello. Not the only “creepy” moment in the play, but one of the better ones.

As with the cast at Shaw, the Irish Classical has assembled some of the best talent in Buffalo in the service of this play. And there are still opportunities to see it.

Lead image: ‘TIS PITY Adriano Gatto as Lord Soranzo and Aleks Malejs as Hippolita, photo credit Gene Witkowski

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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