Image – Baby Horse Theatre Group.

Tis Pity She’s A Whore

By John Ford
Adapted by Jon Beecraft
Baby Horse Theatre Group at the SLANT Culture Theatre Festival

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Baby Horse Theatre wants to shake things up. Boldly avant-garde and fearless in pursuit of their mission, they are not for everybody, but they are always a memorable experience. Their inclusion in the SLANT Culture Theatre Festival delivers a heady dose of experimentation that enables SLANT to more fully realize the goals of its mission statement.

Anyone looking for a straightforward production of John Ford’s classic will be disappointed, as it serves as merely a framework for provocative ideas. The notorious Jacobean tragedy about incest, treachery and bloody revenge retains the ability to shock in a straightforward production. But Baby Horse has adapted the five-act structure into an assaultive, edgy presentation in which the plot is boiled down to a series of actions in a primeval pagan ritual. If you are not already familiar with the plot, I would imagine you would be lost here, so elusive is the very notion of traditional narrative in this version. Random members of the audience are handed small flashlights as they enter to provide the only illumination in the small Alt Space at Walden Theatre. A sound design of deep, resonant musical tones, speed metal and fragments of dialogue that is often heavily distorted, in conjunction with a cast obscured under heavy dark robes and bizarre masks who move in silence through primitive, elemental choreography, make this a deeply unsettling theatrical experience.

In a little over 30 minutes the whole thing is over, and the run time feels just right. There is careful judgment of the effects of the piece on the audience; that a little goes a long way when you are dealing with extremes. The opening night reaction from the sold-out house was a mix of dread fascination and uneasy laughter, and the movement of at least one of the figures through the seats provoked more than one viewer to jump in shock and delight. The provocative nature of the work was reflected in the post-performance conversations in the lobby afterwards, with at least one patron comparing the experience to a good haunted house scare.

Is the point to deliver horror show fright? Or to wake up complacent theatregoers to the wider possibilities of what theatre can be? Perhaps both. But the intense visceral experience of this production makes Baby Horse’s presence at SLANT important on many levels and indicates that the SLANT initiative can fulfill its promise of expanding audiences for participating companies no matter how extreme.

Tis Pity She’s A Whore

November 16 at 10:30pm
November 17 at   7:30pm
November 20 at   9:00pm
November 23 at 10:30pm

Baby Horse Theatre Group
Alt Stage at Walden Theatre
1123 Payne Street

Part of the SLANT Culture Theater Festival