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SECRET LOVERS: Chris Marino pushes UNCW students to stretch intellectual muscles in “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore”

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encore interviewed Chris Marino about directing “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” which opens Nov. 12 at the Mainstage Theatre in UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building.

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It was a shock to much of Wilmington when UNCW theatre professor Chris Marino stepped down as executive director from Dram Tree Shakespeare after its debut show, “Macbeth.” With a successful run at McEachern’s Warehouse on Front Street in September, “Macbeth” had sold-out performances, and lots of buzz circled about Marino’s vision for upping the ante in community theatre. Though Dram Tree hasn’t announced their replacement, Marino has been quick to shift his role within the community, with plans to start his own professional theatre company in the coming year.

“It will most likely base itself out of UNCW and be a mix of professional actors from out of town and local actors, with students making up the apprentice core,” Marino tells.

Though he wants to focus on William Shakespeare, he also looks to expand the work they do with language-based plays and even original pieces—“such as a ‘Southern gothic’ play with music I have been working on,” he continues. “I also have connections to the UK, so I would like to bring some collaborators from there as well.”

First, however, Marino has to juggle multiple tasks, including the opening of John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi” in Chicago in January and John Ford’s “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” with his students at UNCW this week.

“John Ford and John Webster were collaborators, and I see a lot of Webster’s influence in the writing,” Marino says of working on both simultaneously. “As far as process, as with all classical plays, we start with the text and build from there. These plays live and die by their text, so we work diligently to make the text clear and active.”

Though it’s Marino’s first time tackling the Ford production, it certainly isn’t his first Jacobean play. By winter’s end, he will have done three back to back. encore interviewed Marino via email about “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” which opens Nov. 12 at the Mainstage Theatre in UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building.

encore (e): Tell me why you chose this play for the season. What makes it a good learning production for students? 

Chris Marino (CM): Last year I taught a class on Jacobean playwrights, it was by far the favorite play of the group. I think they were blown away by how comprehensible the language was and its obvious similarities to some of the archetypes and themes in  popular shows, like ‘Game of Thrones.’ They were also struck by how funny it was. It’s considered one of the most famous plays of the post-Shakespeare Jacobean era.

As for learning, it is a huge mix of verse, and fairly complicated prose. This type of text really requires students to stretch both their intellectual and acting muscles.

e: You’re a Shakespeare fan and teacher; “‘Tis Pity…” has much of the same stylings of the Bard’s work, a la “Hamlet,” “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.’ Can you expand on the similarities?

CM: In many cases Ford lifted either directly from Shakespeare, or wrote in his rhythm.

For example, take Capulet in Act 3, Scene 5 in “Romeo and Juliet”:  “Thank me no thankings.”

Then Putana in  Act 1, Scene 2, in “‘Tis Pity”:  “leave me no leaving.”

Ford will sometimes transpose a scene but keep the setting.  In “‘Tis Pity,” there is a balcony scene like in “Romeo and Juliet,” but instead of a scene about the discovery of love, it is about giving up on love.

e: Why do you think audiences will connect with it? 

CM: While the central plot is a love story between a brother and sister, it is still very human in its sensibility. The play makes us confront some rather uncomfortable things in ourselves. I do think they will understand why, in this world of the play, Giovanni and Annabella fall in love.

e: Give me a basic plot overview and the themes it highlights that you think will impact viewers.

CM: The quick rundown is Giovanni and Annabella, who are brother and sister, proclaim their love for each other and embark on a secret love affair. While this may be the story most people condemn, the real villains are yet to reveal themselves and are not whom they appear to be.

The audience can expect a much funnier story than one would be led to believe from a Jacobean tragedy. The ending is quite shocking and one of the most famous surprise reveals in Jacobean theatre.

e: The audience will be 7 feet away from the actors onstage. Why approach the show with such close proximity? What do you hope to achieve? 

CM: The play was written for spaces like the “Cockpit” and “Blackfriars” in the London of the 17th century. These were very intimate, almost claustrophobic spaces where they could control light and sound. The texture and energy of the writing is intimate, so we have set up that relationship with the audience—or in this case 64 lucky people who get there early enough to sit on the stage.

e: How is set and costuming helping this world come to life?

CM: The set has the feel of a runway show or intimate rock concert. We wanted something that the play could resonate against and not be too prescriptive. Ford moves locations quite a bit, so the space needed to morph with the audience’s imagination.

The costumes are a nod to the original practices of the 16th and 17th century. Actors would have worn expensive, fashion-forward garments, so we have taken our cue from that. The clothes did not always fit the character, so the actor had to work very hard indeed to manifest it through performance. Think of trying to perform Juliet in a Versace gown—you get the idea.

DETAILS:
‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Nov. 12-15, 19-22, 8 p.m. or Sun. matinees, 2 p.m.
UNCW Cultural Arts Building
Mainstage Theatre
Tickets: $6-$15
910-962-3500
http://uncw.edu/arts/boxoffice.html

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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