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LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Glory of Living
Sarah Daniels, a young college dean, is caught up in the eyes of a storm over accusations of racism in Spinning Into Butter (See link below). A disastrous blind date with a man who turns out to be a stalker transforms magazine writer Theresa Bedell's life into an unending nightmare in Boy Gets Girl, the one I thought her best (See link below).
Lisa, in The Glory of Living, is just fifteen when she trades the hellish Alabama trailer trash existence with her prostitute mother for marriage to a sexually perverted, abusive psychopath and just eighteen when we meet her for the last time after having been convicted of multiple murders, which I won't detail since it would spoil the suspense. This true crime based story of the disastrous fallout of poverty, neglect and undetected abuse is perhaps the grimmest of what might be viewed as the first in Ms. Gilman's trilogy of women in the twilight zone. Young Lisa is harder to identify and sympathize with, but like Sarah and Theresa, she is a complex character -- not a heroine whose life can be turned around into a happy ending but also not your easily classified victim.
Aside from its tie-in to the playwright's own work, The Glory of Living, which won her London's 1999 Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright (a first for an American), bears a close kinship to another dark and gritty trailer trash drama, Killer Joe. Directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman to make the tension simmer and boil and with Lisa played by film actress Anna Paquin, the play has our emotions racing from shock and disgust to deep distress for the Lisas of this world whose lives become as grim and shabby as their surroundings. Michelle Malavet's sets capture the dreary landscape with devastating true grit: Lisa's unhomelike home in which a blanket draped over a rope is all that separates her from her mother's noisy and unwholesome sex life. . . the grungy motel rooms where the shocking details about her life with her worse than contemptible husband unfold. . . the police interrogation room and the jail cell which turns out to be the most peaceful place she's ever lived in.
Ms. Paquin, who is just nineteen and making her stage debut, brings the right degree of frailty and frozen morality to the central role. While her Academy Award winning film background (she was only ten when she won an Oscar for best supporting actress in The Piano Lesson) gives this production a degree of box office pull, the two main men deliver stellar performances. Jeffrey Donovan, introduces the demented Clint with a certain smarmy charm that builds to a crescendo of evil personified. David Aaron Baker, while on stage more briefly as Lisa's court-appointed lawyer, fervently projects his intense desire to reach the girl inside the seemingly conscienceless criminal. When he does connect with that girl, the one who clings to the toy piano given her by her long gone father, he achieves an unforgettabl touching scene. despite the fact that it reflects a first-time playwright's bent for contrivance.
The rest of the cast (ten actors playing thirteen parts) performs well. Larry Clarke, as one of the interrogating policemen, is particularly affecting as he lets us see his guarded and nothing-can-shock-me-any more cop's face reflect the shock of Lisa's testimony.
Ultimately The Glory of Living -- a title that seems to mock its content -- is too unsettling to be classified as entertaining. Its tightly paced momentum and the heart-wrenching final scene between Paquin and Baker notwithstanding, this is for viewers able to stomach ugly and unbearable slices of life. If you're willing to clench teeth and fists, you will be rewarded with some fine interpretations of people you wish were just figments of some crime story writer's imagination. For less troubling fare, check out our reviews of Mamma Mia!, Noises Off and 45 Seconds From Broadway.
LINKS TO PLAYS MENTIONED
Spinning Into Butter
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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