At first the word, derivative, steps gingerly across your mind as the young man consults the friar about his love life — Shakespeare had done that with Romeo a few decades before John Ford's 1630s play.
And the Greeks, no doubt, did it centuries before.
But not long after, you realize the young lovers are brother and sister, and Mr. Derivative leaps back and forth across time — there's plenty of story line from times past in Ford's "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," but there are also legions of writers today who have lifted liberally from the show.
This, after all, is a bloody morality play, which opened Wednesday night in San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, complete with incest, revenge, family honor at its most vicious, loyalty and even faith. It's a show that takes on God and everybody with a lot of the same stuff that still keeps us flocking to theaters and movie screens.
And, sadly, that may be the biggest problem with the unwieldy "'tis Pity;" you've seen these plot devices so often they range close to parody when they're trotted out here.
But director Carey Perloff and her cast play the pre-restoration melodrama for all its worth in this lavishly costumed show performed on a set that is a representational version of a 17th century Italian cathedral. The design, featuring towering vertical elements that look like giant organ pipes, jeweled curtains that change colors throughout the show, and staircases that
Like many of the old classics, "'tis Pity" spends much of the first act tying the story up in knots from the moment the incestuous affair between Annabella (Rene Augesen) and her brother, Giovanni (Michael Hayden) is revealed.
The twists and turns painstakingly taken during the opening act come unsprung in the second leading to enormous amounts of bloodshed and revenge and ends up painting everyone with the same bloody brush so nobody, including the Pope's nuncio ends up looking very good.
This is a show where those cast in smaller roles have scenes that are tiny gems, allowing them to shine brighter than the principals, who do much of the heavy lifting during the opening scenes. Jack Willis as the nuncio, James Carpenter as a supposed doctor, Sharon Lockwood at Putana and Anthony Fusco as Vasques are outstanding in their roles.
But, overall, "'Tis Pity" is a bit creaky and shows its age. It unfolds in an episodic manner, with long speeches and scenes that take considerable time to connect.
Still, it's a show with a hugely familiar title that few people have actually seen performed. So on that basis alone, the play deserves stage time.
Reach Pat Craig at 925-945-4736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.