The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.038 Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Subject: John Ford in New York
From The New York Times
January 27, 2012
Extreme Theater: Wake-Up Calls From the 1600s
By Alexis Soloski
The 17th-century playwright John Ford never met a character he didn’t want to kill: gruesomely, ingeniously, poignantly. He liked them stabbed, starved, poisoned, burnt, bled and assaulted by roving packs of bandits. His two best plays — both having forthcoming New York revivals — boast body counts nearly as long as the cast lists.
“The Broken Heart,” which begins performances next Saturday in a Theater for a New Audience production at the Duke on 42nd Street, leaves seven characters dead. “ ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” typically offs eight, though fewer perish in the streamlined production from the British troupe Cheek by Jowl that arrives at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on March 20.
Owing perhaps to the violence of his plots, the density of his poetry and the intensity of the emotions he describes, Ford isn’t often staged in New York. For several centuries he wasn’t staged anywhere. Ford began his career as a poet in the early 1600s, then moved to playmaking, working collaboratively with other writers, like Thomas Dekker and John Webster. In the late 1620s Ford struck out on his own, writing eight plays over a decade and then promptly disappearing from the historical record, just as his plays soon disappeared from theaters.
Yet Ford has become popular in the last 20 years, and feels wholly contemporary. Mark Houlahan, a senior lecturer at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, said he thought today’s audiences responded to Ford’s “extremes of violence and passion,” while Lisa Hopkins, a Ford authority who teaches at Sheffield Hallam University in England, praised his “aesthetic of silence and nuance.” Ford is a playwright of dichotomies, somehow both restrained and outrageous, shrewd and shocking.
He didn’t shock Selina Cartmell, a young British director making her American debut with “The Broken Heart.” This play, probably written in the late 1620s, just before “ ’Tis Pity,” and set in ancient Sparta, features a complex plot concerning three intertwined couples. A posthumous marriage and one of the most macabre dances ever to grace the stage are particular highlights. . . .
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Declan Donnellan, the acclaimed director who will present “ ’Tis Pity” at the Brooklyn Academy, has been awake to the pleasures of Ford for decades. He first staged “ ’Tis Pity” 30 years ago and studied it in school years before that. This “thrilling play,” he wrote in an e-mail from the tour’s stop in Australia, is “a human study about an illicit passion, and a compelling insight into our capacity to break rules — indeed the need to break rules.”
“ ’Tis Pity” breaks many rules. Set in Renaissance Parma and inhabiting some very tricky moral territory, it concerns the incestuous love between Annabella, to whom the title refers, and her brother Giovanni. . . .
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