Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Two Shocking Plays Written 400 Years Apart

In December, I wrote a blog post for Theasy.com about how I was unsettled (in a good way) by a lot of theater I had been seeing. This week I have two plays to add to the list of shows that shocked and disturbed me and they were written nearly 400 years apart: John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Belarus Free Theatre's Trash Cuisine. (It's a good thing I split them up with the lighthearted Something Rotten! You can read my review of that show on Theasy.com.)
Amelia Pedlow, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, and Matthew Amendt in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
Photo credit: Richard Termine
If you've never had a chance to see 'Tis Pity, Red Bull Theater's production at The Duke on 42nd Street is worth checking out. This play written in the 1630s has more incest and gore than an episode of Bates Motel. Giovanni (Matthew Amendt) and Annabella (Amelia Pedlow) are in love, but they happen to be brother and sister. The press release asks, "What if Romeo and Juliet were brother and sister?" Similarities to the work of Ford's predecessor William Shakespeare extend past the star-crossed lovers plot and include poetic language and a foolish comic relief character, in this case Bergetto (Ryan Garbayo). Jesse Berger's direction makes it easy to follow the various twists and turns (Giovanni and Annabella live in Parma surrounded by a lot of questionable people).

As fascinated as I was by the play, I felt detached from it--observing it from a distance but not able to connect to the characters. Still, I had to shield my eyes from the bloody bodies piling up at the end. And that is light entertainment compared to what the audience at La Mama has to endure during Trash Cuisine.

Belarus Free Theatre was founded in 2005 by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, who conceived this play, the company's first English work. In 2011, they found out that if they returned to Belarus, they would be imprisoned. They sought political asylum in the U.K. and now have permanent residence in London and Minsk.

Belarus is the last continent in Europe where capital punishment is legal and Trash Cuisine uses food to tell various stories about capital punishment from around the world. It is an attack on the eyes, ears, and nose. For example, we smell meat cooking as one actor describes an extremely horrific act during the Rwandan genocide and in another scene we hear a horribly loud sound simulating an electric chair. In contrast, there are moments of genuine beauty by choreographer Bridget Fiske.

I am in awe of the cast and honestly have no idea how they perform this show. I know they are acting, but some moments of brutality felt so real. They all deserved to be mentioned by name: Victoryia Biran, Kiryl Kanstantsinau, Siarhei Kvachonak, Esther Mugambi, Stephanie Pan, Pavel Radak-Haradnitski, Maryia Sazonava, Philippe Spall, and Arkadiy Yashin.

As much as I wanted to leave the theater at times, I'm glad I stuck it out. Sometimes we need a reminder of the horrors going on in the world.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore runs through May 16. Trash Cuisine runs through May 17.

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