The most fervent love is often forbidden.
But its absurdity doesn’t make it any less true.
In seeking that truth, the Philadelphia Artists Collective is presenting, “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” a Jacobean tragedy written by John Ford during the 1620s surrounding an ardent affair between a brother and sister in 17th-century Italy.
Promoting under-performed classical plays, PAC, founded in 2008 by Damon Bonetti and Dan Hodge, is digging beneath this taboo and into the human heart through its interpretation, which runs until April 14 at Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale, 1336 Spring Garden St.
In doing so, the company has cast two South Philadelphia residents to tackle the scandalous siblings.
“That specificity, I think, is what offers universality,” said Dickinson Square West resident Trevor Fayle, who plays Giovanni. “I’m hoping that not many of our audiences that come to see the show have engaged in their own incestuous relationships, but even in lieu of that, the human experiences of the play are all still very much there. Even though the notion of this forbidden relationship is so alien, the feelings that the two characters experience certainly will not be.”
Making her PAC directorial debut, guest director Jessica Bedford has set the play during the 1960s. Bedford has chosen the mid-20th century as a slightly more contemporary lens to view this classic play, which in due course, evokes often perennial issues.
Like most classical plays, the females of “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” exist in few numbers with little dialogue, as, ordinarily, the thrust of their character development rests in seeking a husband, pleasing their father and bearing children.
Approaching the role of Annabella, Giovanni’s lover and sister, harnessing the character’s complicated essence can be challenging with finite opportunities to speak.
“I think that’s something that’s problematic in looking at the female voice in all classical work,” said Italian Market resident Stephanie Hodge, who plays Annabella. “Because it tends to be more subdued, figuring out who this person is – whose sexuality is such a theme and a focus – and trying to motivate everything that happens around these two people.”
Countering women’s often unjust punishment for expressing sexuality, the director is crafting her own fates for the female characters.
Sparking subtle progressiveness, Hodge and Fayle say Bedford allows the female characters to cast their shadow onto the play in its final scene, which ordinarily is not lent to these roles in the story’s closing.
“Hopefully, that leaves a couple of questions that are not answered in the audience’s minds,” Hodge said.
While the tumultuous affair takes up the play’s focal point, “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” is sewn together with a 13-person cast and various subplots, including themes of political and religious corruption.
Particularly, this notion of Catholic corruption leads itself to the 1960s Italian setting, as evidence was uncovered at this time revealing questionable financial actions by the Vatican.
Although topics of incest and murder might seem to prevail, Fayle and Hodge say that their objective is to strip away these sordid subjects until both the cast and the audience find some human nature.
“Those things that are kind of the selling points of the play have almost become inconsequential,” Fayle said. ‘It’s just about people and their actions and the consequences regardless of the greater context. I think that’s been a real strength that we’ve approached the show with.”
With simple costumes, a limited design scape and black-box style staging, the company’s minimalist elements of “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” elevate this particular approach toward the greater content.
Shaving away at unseemly affairs and exuberant renaissance attire, PAC strives to achieve its overarching mission.
“(We at PAC) are uniquely interested in getting out of the way of the play, so even for the other elements and other explorations that we’re doing in tandem with this production…all of that is, ideally, going to help make this more immediate to the audience, as opposed to putting stuff in between them and what feels like could be a very stodgy script,” Hodge said. “The PAC is particularly skilled in making things that sound old feel really vibrant and fresh and new.”