Even in our shockproof age, the shattering production of Tis Pity She's a Whore grabs our attention. Now at BAM, John Ford's 17th-century drama is about the incestuous love between a brother and sister, or what the local friar calls "a leprosy of lust."
Cheek by Jowl's stylized production has been streamlined, but this is Jacobean fare, so it promises to be bloody and violent. The play's core is the transgressive love between Giovanni (Jack Gordon) and his sister Annabella (Lydia Wilson).
Director Declan Donnellan has set it in a modern bedroom, bathed in crimson red; the real horror often takes place in the pristine white bathroom in the back. And horror is in big supply. He calls the drama "a compelling insight into our capacity to break rules." This is Renaissance Italy -- the only rule is survival, at any cost. Ford posits, via Giovanni, the juxtaposition of the taboo love against a morally corrupt society.
Annabella is wooed fervently by her brother, but is courted by many suitors, including Soranzo (Jack Hawkins). "Such lips would tempt a saint." When she discovers she's pregnant, she marries him to save herself from scandal. He, in turn, has broken a promise to the widow Hippolita (Suzanne Burden), who plans to exact her own revenge.
The music by Nick Powell is perfect, as is Judith Greenwood's lighting. They aid a sexy production that opens with dancing and delights in its male characters flinging their clothes off. Tis Pity She's a Whore runs a tight two hours and most is riveting. Thanks to an excellent cast -- Wilson and Gordon soar as the doomed lovers -- it builds to an electric crescendo of woe.
Conversely, Broadway's Once, now at the Jacobs Theater, is quietly funny and emotionally heartbreaking. Set in Dublin, the musical, based on the 2006 Irish movie and known for its Oscar-winning song "Falling Slowly," is blessed with a tender love story, quirky characters and terrific songs.
Its cast is super-versatile -- at once singers, dancers, actors and musicians. Together, they produce one of the most touching, intimate musicals in years, a potent reminder that connecting with another is primal.
The musical tells the story of a talented, but down-on-his luck Irish musician (Steve Kazee) who meets a Czech immigrant (an astounding Cristin Milioti). She asks him to repair her Hoover and soon they discover a mutual passion for music. She hears his songs and is determined to help him. "I am Czech, I am always serious," she explains.
Both click via music, both in her words are "stopped." Their emotional residue is complicated. She has a daughter and estranged husband; his great love moved to New York a few months earlier. Yet their meeting seems destined; in the course of a few days, lives are changed.
Director John Tiffany has wisely set the action in a Dublin pub, with the space doubling for all other locales. The audience can even go onstage to buy drinks -- before the show, while the cast plays -- and during intermission.
The chemistry between Kazee and Milioti is fantastic. And the supporting cast, Elizabeth A. Davis, Will Connolly, and Paul Whitty, among others, is equally outstanding. Once is an old-fashioned musical with a strong narrative, fluid staging and a big heart. It's a memorable experience.