CSUF play review: ”Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ is a twisted and gory satire

In Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle, Theater & Arts
Danielle Johnson on stage in a black corset dress during ''Tis Pity She's a Whore'
(Courtesy of Mark Ramont)

Flashing lights, half-naked women and the blaring noise of rock music transformed Young Theatre into a sinister world of chaos and destruction.

Adapted by director Kyle Cooper, “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” a parody of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” examines gender dynamics and made its Cal State Fullerton debut on March 9.

There’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll laced with racy costuming, and blood and gore; it’s like “Reservoir Dogs” meets “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“I like to approach things with a little bit more of a punk rock attitude, and I like to break expectations and push buttons,” Cooper said.

“‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” was originally written in the 1600s, but Cooper wanted to connect with a contemporary audience that may “hate boring theater” and admire Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch.

Giovanni (Anthony Ayala) is in love with his sister Annabella (Scout Lepore) and tries to kiss and make love with her every chance he gets. Their father remains unaware of the incestual romance as egotistical men attempt to take Annabella’s hand in marriage.

“It’s funny because no matter how you slice it, it’s always going to be weird when you have a brother who f—s his sister as the crux of the story,” Ayala said.

Throughout the play, Annabella has no sense of control in her life and is constantly put in uncomfortable situations by men who all share drunkenly violent and narcissistic qualities.

“If you watch the show, you’ll see that nothing is her fault. The men around her are constantly using her,” said Mykah Atkins, who plays Philotis, one of the female characters weighed down by a man.

The female characters wear lace, see-through dresses and are often stripped down to only bras and underwear, while the men dress in large coats and jackets. The only male character to show skin is Giovanni, but even he still wears his pants in a scene where Annabella is almost completely naked.

“Just the costuming is based around the idea that women are the pawns seen as sexual objects and men are rockstars,” Atkins said. “Every woman has their own story in the play of how a man ruins her life,” Atkins said.

Mykah Atkins in a maid costume with a lollipop and clipboard
(Courtesy of Mark Ramont)

Most of the show is carried by dark satire meant to make the audience squeamish. While the bloodshed from the well-choreographed fight scenes isn’t meant to make any contact with people in the audience, Cooper assures that if it does, it will wash out.

Vasquez (Rey Pulice), the malicious henchman to Soranzo (Patrick Curley), provides another reason for the audience to be unsettled. The character is intimidating, yet cunning, as he growls through his teeth, shows off a gun tucked against his hip and flaunts the knife hidden in his boot.

When casting roles, Cooper tried to find actors who could find shared qualities with their characters.

“I mean there’s some weird-ass characters, and I would sure hope that these actors are not them in real life. But I do see a lot of themselves coming out,” Cooper said.

Ayala described Giovanni as destructive, intelligent, passionate and angry. He looked to David Bowie as inspiration for his character’s larger-than-life attitude and listens to “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA before each show.

“When I was in high school, I never thought that I would be in this type of show,” Ayala said.

He described this show as a theater production that’s fast paced and cutting edge, with an overarching deeper message.

On the surface “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” comes off as a misogynistic bloodbath of dark humor, but underneath it shows how truly terrible a world ruled solely by men can be.

“If you leave the theater uncomfortable, then we’ve done our job. It should make you uncomfortable because it’s actually happening today,” Atkins said.

She said their director often says “theater needs to be dangerous because when people get scared they start thinking.”

The play was successful in combining heartbreak, humor and horror into what Cooper calls an “emotional gauntlet.”

“I think there’s a lot of talk going around about how extreme it is–and it is, don’t get me wrong–but I don’t think anyone should ever feel scared about coming to see the show. It’s actually a lot of fun,” Cooper said.

“‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” was an incredible journey from start to finish and worth every moment.

The play will continue to run in Young Theatre until March 25. Tickets are $14 and $12 for students.

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