The brother-sister love at the center of John Ford's controversial 1633 play isn't, if you can believe it, the sickest thing about 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through March 31). It's the vomiting, the predatory sex acts, and the grisly murders that really turn the stomach in Cheek by Jowl's sexed-up, stripped-down production.
The London-based Cheek by Jowl company is known for its daring interpretations of often-underappreciated classics. As if resurrecting Ford's incest-themed drama weren't daring enough, director Declan Donnellan has contemporized the show note the True Blood and Vampire Diaries posters and staged the whole story around a bed. That's where we first meet the gamine Annabella (Lydia Wilson), a slip of a thing with a Rooney Mara-esque haircut: on her bed, with its red sheets, in her red-painted bedroom, with its red armoire and red dresser. Incidentally, she's also wearing red lingerie. (Nick Ormerod designed the scarlet, ahem, set.)
And it seems like every eligible man in Italy not only her brother Giovanni (Jack Gordon) wants to get into that bed. Annabella has a pack of suitors, including the handsome Signor Soranzo (Jack Hawkins), prancing around bare-chested and even, at one point, falling at her feet. Nice touch, that objectifying the men, particularly considering the way women get battered and bloodied in this play. Some of them don't even get a chance: Annabella's maid/nurse (Lizzie Hopley) is named Putana. Way to pass judgment, Ford.
Donnellan has also streamlined the text, eliminating a few subplots and even the closing line ''Who could not say, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore?'' (The final scene is a brilliant blood-soaked tableaux; you won't miss that condemnation.) But he might have been more liberal with the scissors. We hear so much trash talk from the scorned Hippolita (scene stealer Suzanne Burden) that it's hard to see Soranzo as anything but a cad. And we do need to believe that his profuse declarations of love for Annabella are genuine. Because if there isn't genuine misguided affection behind what he tries to do to her in the bathroom, well...then that's really sick. B
(Tickets: BAM.org or 718-636-4100)