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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre Company Tackles a new adaptation of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” through June 29, 2013 at EXIT Stage Left, San Francisco

“Tis A Pity She’s A Whore,” a world premiere adaptation by Oren Stevens, transplants John Ford’s infamous classic to Kennedy-era America.  Directed by Ariel Craft, at San Francisco’s Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre through Saturday, June 29, 2013.

“Tis A Pity She’s A Whore,” a world premiere adaptation by Oren Stevens, transplants John Ford’s infamous classic to Kennedy-era America. Directed by Ariel Craft, at San Francisco’s Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre through Saturday, June 29, 2013.

It would have been easy to miss Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre Co’s (BtaBB) world premiere of Oren Stevens’ adaptation of  ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore in the Tenderloin’s EXIT Stage Left Theatre last Friday because almost everything about the production was scarcely bigger than a bread box, except for its energy and soul.  Wake up call for me, who regularly attends and reviews the larger theatre company productions—there’s incredible core of talent out there that is young, strong, collaborative, constantly adapting to opportunities, and so worthy.

Ariel Craft, 24, a former A.C.T. Artistic Fellow, founded Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre Co. a year ago.  Shortly thereafter, she contacted her young friend, the playwright and director Oren Stevens, who grew up in Lafayette and learned his craft at Yale, to write an adaptation of John Ford’s 1633 drama, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore Pity.  The play’s uncondemning treatment of incest was controversial from its first performance and Stevens’ interventions have quickened the pace of the story while keeping it every bit as arresting.  In addition to a sensitive reworking of the story, Stevens displays a wonderful ear for language. His adaptation managed to make the play sound old but come across as crystal clear and quite colloquial—like the very best modern productions of Shakespeare.

One of the charms of this bare bones production is that, with no set to speak of, it all depends on the strength of the acting.  Justin Gillman was particularly engrossing as Giovanni (imagine a grubby Niles Crane) whose amorous feelings for his sister Annabella (Maria Leigh) lead to a brutal and bloody climax.  The scheming that goes on behind the two siblings and their forbidden love is remarkable.  The seemingly hum-drum  household conceals a world of deception and manipulation— betrayals, rival lovers competing for Annabella’s hand, and ultimately murder.  The siblings’ hypocritical mother, Floria (Cat Luedtke) has chosen the wealthy nobleman Sorzano to be her daughter’s mate and doesn’t care about her daughter’s wants.  Scorned Hippolita (scene stealer Allison Hunter Blackwell) seethes with passion and jealousy, whereas Annabella’s maid/nurse Putana (Jeunee Simon) plays the innocent but then quickly gives up the secret of the paternity of Annabella’s child and shows that she’s a master at household politics and landing on her feet.  Sam Tillis is spellbinding as Vasques, the cunning servant of Annabella’s eventual husband, Sorzano (Peter Townley).

The core of this drama emerges with the pregnancy—a joyless, shameful disaster that is punctuated with dramatic bursts of violence that had audience members gasping and cringing.  On Friday, Maria Leigh delivered a fascinating Annabella…I didn’t care for the self-indulged young woman who opened the play tossing love letters from potential suitors around like yesterday’s recycling.  I liked her even less as an expectant mother who didn’t have a protective instinct in her body.  Like her or not, a spirited young woman, who initially seemed to have the world at her feet, was shown to be extremely vulnerable in a society dominated by men.  For days, I was provoked to think long and deep about motherhood and the very modern familial issues surrounding an unexpected child.

Ariel Craft already shows a precocious ability to get her actors to deliver nuanced and emotionally riveting performances.  Her highly original production packages Ford’s disturbing drama within some of the fluffiest tropes of teen love movies of the 1960s. These are beautifully and sometimes comically evoked through original ballads and do-wop-style songs of San Francisco composer David Brown, which are nicely sung by the talented cast.

More from Ariel Craft —Theater is a place for exploration of the impulses which have no place in the daylight of our society, those which we usually don’t allow ourselves emotional space for: the instincts that we’re afraid of and that, if unpacked in our day-to-day lives, would yield catastrophic results. I can think of few plays better suited for this kind of exploration than ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, which was massively controversial when written and still remains so almost 400 years later.

We made the decision to modernize in hopes of avoiding dismissal of the subject matter because it was a “different time.”  I, for one, make a lot of behavioral allowances for any action which happens in a time that I don’t feel I have a cultural reference point for.  I’m very quick to accept incest and murder in the 1600s as a given, in a way that I’m not in the 1960s. Why the 1960s specifically? There is something fruitful—I think—for the play in the bridge between the 1950s and the 1960s, the loss of innocence, the beginning of a sexual revolution.

Oren Stevens on his adaptation:  Ariel Craft and John Ford accidentally tricked me into doing this show. Ariel’s part was easy; all she had to do was ask for a light adaptation, and that’s exactly what I agreed to do.  I thought I would cut a few characters, streamline some language, and call it a day. Then I met John Ford’s play, which is this dense, meaty masterpiece dripping with scheming, passion, and violence.  Before long, I was having so much fun unraveling and discovering this story that I found I was doing a massive (or, as I say in the script, ruthless) adaptation. Through some fantastic conversations with Ariel, we recrafted Ford’s plot-driven spectacle of blood to be driven by the characters that inhabit the it.  Their desires, rather than their actions, were given the forefront. We ended up discovering the play bit by bit, through scattered sidebars after other meetings, or four AM revelatory text messages, and each new piece was a thrilling discovery; every moment of working on this play was exciting. Ariel and John tricked me into doing this show, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Run-time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Creative Team:  Adapted by Oren Stevens, Directed by Ariel Craft, Scenic Design by Joshua Saulpaw, Costume Design by Emily White, Lighting Design by William Campbell,
Original Compositions and Music Direction by David Brown, Verse Coaching by Jesse Brownstein, Fight Choreography by Will Springhorn, Jr., Stage Managed by Sana Yamaguchi

Performed by: Allison Hunter Blackwell (Hippolita), Alisha Ehrlich (Philotis), Justin Gillman (Giovanni), Maria Leigh (Annabella), Cat Luedtke (Floria), Lisa-Marie Newton (Sister Margaret Cortona), Jeunee Simon (Putana), Sam Tillis (Vasques), Peter Townley (Soranzo)

Details: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore closes Saturday June 29, 2013.  EXIT Stage Left is located at 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco.  All performances are sold-out.  For more information on Bigger Than a Breadbox Theatre, click here.

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s Cup on Display at Asian Art Museum Thursday, June 27, 2013, along with “In the Moment,” a Peek into Larry Ellison’s Rarely Seen Japanese Art Collection

The historic America’s Cup trophy, in the proud possession of Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Team USA and soon to be defended by Oracle Team USA, is on display at the Asian Art Museum through June 27, 2013.

The historic America’s Cup trophy, in the proud possession of Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Team USA and soon to be defended by Oracle Team USA, is on display at the Asian Art Museum through June 27, 2013.

The most coveted prize in competitive sailing and the oldest trophy in international sports, The America’s Cup, is on display at the Asian Art Museum though 9 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2013. The display is part of the opening activities for In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection, the museum’s special exhibition from the rarely seen trove of Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO and owner of ORACLE TEAM USA, defender of the 34th America’s Cup.

Made by the Crown Jeweler Robert Garrard from sterling silver in 1848, it became known as the America’s Cup when the owners of America donated it in 1857 as a “perpetual challenger trophy to promote friendly competition amongst nations.”  Originally just over 20 in. tall, it was extended in the 1950s and again in the 1990s to allow further engraving of racing results. It now stands approximately 3 ft. tall.  Without a doubt, it is one of the most difficult trophies to win and in the more than 150 years since the first race off England, only four nations have been victorious.  For some perspective on its history, consider that there had been nine contests for the America’s Cup before the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. The America’s Cup was first contested in 1851—when it was known as the One Hundred Pound Cup—when the yacht America, from the New York Yacht Club, beat 15 British yachts in a race around the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England.

You can see the coveted cup at the Asian, along with rare treasures from Ellison’s stunning collection of Japanese art—64 artworks spanning 1,100 years.  Included in the exhibition, which opens today, are significant works by noted artists of the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615–1868) periods, along with other important examples of religious art, lacquer, woodwork, and metalwork. Highlights include a 13th–14th century wooden sculpture of Shotoku Taishi; six-panel folding screens dating to the 17th century by Kano Sansetsu; and 18th century paintings by acclaimed masters Maruyama Ōkyo and Ito Jakuchu.  The collection reflects Ellison’s great love of nature and of animals, particularly cats.  The exhibition catalogue cover features one of Ellison’s favorite cats, a tiger, in a hanging scroll by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Edo Period. This sitting tiger is imbued with personality and a marvelous sense of detail.  In the Lee Gallery, just adjacent to the education room where The America’s Cup is displayed, are “Two Puppies at Play”—two delightful, one-of-a-kind 13th century Kamakura period (1185-1333) pups, one atop the other, rolling in play, made of lacquer on wood with crystal inlay.

We’ve come to expect a creative use of technology from the Asian and this show does not disappoint.  The Lee Gallery has varying light levels so that viewers can see how painted folding screens and hanging scrolls appeared under fluctuating light conditions before the advent of electricity.   A dramatic pair of 17th century folding screens attributed to Hasegawa Togaku depict undulating waves and huge rocks masterfully rendered in ink with a generous application of gold leaf.  Benches have been set up in the gallery so that visitors can sit at the same height as the screens, roughly the way a person seated on straw would view them in a Japanese home.  A three minute cycle of changing light, adjusted to mimic the passing of a day, illuminates how the gold-leaf softens and modulates, altering the entire mood of the coastal scenery as the day passes.

Tiger by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Edo Period Edo (1615-1868), 1779, One of a pair of hanging scrolls; ink and light colors on paper, 45.75 ” H x 20.5” W (each), Larry Ellison Collection.

Tiger by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Edo Period Edo (1615-1868), 1779, One of a pair of hanging scrolls; ink and light colors on paper, 45.75 ” H x 20.5” W (each), Larry Ellison Collection.

Public access to this collection has been extremely limited but the AAM made great strides when its former director, Dr. Emily Sano, became Ellison’s private art consultant just after retiring her post at the Asian in 2007.  Many of the rare works on display are pieces that Ellison actually lives with and has on rotating display in his palatial Japanese-style home in Woodside which is surrounded by a traditional seasonal garden.  Stay-tuned to ARThound for a full review of the show.

Larry Ellison is the fifth wealthiest person on the planet.  His June, 2103 net worth is $34.9 billion.  Notoriously tough in business, he’s been sailing since he was a boy and spends lavishly on what he calls the best team sport on the planet.  Of course, in this “winner take all” race, first place is all the matters and we acknowledge that, for years now, the America’s Cup has been more about sailboat design than sport.  Ellison famously brought team BMW Oracle, the challenger in the 2010, 33rd America’s Cup, together to race aboard USA-17, the most technologically advanced sailboat ever built.  In fact, the catamaran was less of a boat and more of a wind-responsive high-tech machine which moved just above the water.  USA-17’s crew was skippered by Australian James “Jimmy” Spithill, the youngest to ever helm an America’s boat, along with a team of expert sailors from all over the world.  All of them were united by a single purpose: to win the America’s Cup and bring it back to America.

As victor in the 2010, Ellison earned the right to set the rules for this year’s regatta.  He brought the race to San Francisco, a decision most Bay Area residents applaud.  Continuing to use the extremely costly 72-foot-long catamarans that fly above the water has been a more controversial call.  So far, only four teams have entered the race due to prohibitive costs and Ellison’s AC72 has been plagued with problems.  While we all know that money doesn’t necessarily equal merit, it’s a historical fact that investing on the frontiers of technology has spin-offs we’ll all enjoy later.  There are few people who could have leveraged nascent digital technology as profitably as Ellison has—he’s earned the right to spend his money as he see fit.  His Japanese art collection is nothing short of spectacular.

For an excellent overview on the 2010 race, The Wind Gods (2103), a new documentary film, airs this week on KRCB and is produced by Skydance Productions, a company run by Ellison’s son, David Ellison.

Details:  The America’s Cup trophy is on display from June 26 until 9 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2013.  In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection  runs June 28-Septmeber 2013.  The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street (at Civic Center Plaza), San Francisco.  Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students; $8 youth 13-17 and free to 12 and under.   On weekends, admission is $2 more.  Parking: The Asian Art Museum does not have a parking facility, but it is served by the following parking facilities—all within walking distance of the museum: Civic Center Plaza Garage is the closest and most reasonably priced has 840 spaces. From Van Ness, turn left on McAllister.  Entrance is on McAllister, between Polk and Larkin Streets. Info: www.asianart.org.

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June 27, 2013 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment