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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
The Killing of Sister George
Marcus's once shocking play, with its lesbian characters and "twisty" sexual overtones, has been massaged into a less stringent and more straight (pardon the pun) forward work by playwright Jeffery Hatcher. Now in a revival at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, and directed by and starring Kathleen Turner, Sister George. . . is anything but shocking in today's sexual environment. It still has some humor, though much of it is forced, and except for the relation to today's scandal at the BBC and the star turn by Turner, there isn't really much justification for this revival.
Turner plays June Buckridge, a veteran soap opera actress famous for her role as the homespun, philosophy-spouting Sister George, a country nurse in the little village of "Applehurst" who toddles around the countryside on her mo-ped ministering to the physical and psychological problems of her flock. June, on the other hand, is an ego swollen, hard drinking, loud mouthed bully who controls and intimidates her sweet, young flatmate, Childie" (Clea Alsip) with a variety of masochistic practices. Though the word "lesbian" is never spoken you would have to be from the moon not to grasp the relationship.
The play opens with June bursting into her apartment (nicely detailed with non-chic chintz and prints by designer Allen Moyer) in a bellowing rage. "They're going to murder me!" she screams. Seems she suspects that the network is so obsessed with ratings that they have plans to "eliminate" Sister George.
Although Childie attempts to assuage her anger, June is even more suspicious when the executive producer of the show, Mrs. Mercy Croft (Betsy Aidem) phones asking if she can come over on an urgent matter! The matter is a hoot! It seems that June – after a night of drinking with her buddies — accidentally got into a cab which already two novice nuns as passengers and prompted "assaulted" them. "Bats!" She says, "I thought they were bats. Albino bats with pink eyes who scratched me!"
How June gets out of that scrape and what happens when her worst fears come true and Sister George is scheduled to get the ax provides the balance of the plot. There's a subtle sub-plot that involves the slow annexation of "Childie's" affections by Mrs. Croft, a sly, smooth operator, who slowly reveals her own predatory ways.
Hatcher's adaptation makes the second act more enjoyable than the original and there are a couple of added plot "twists" to enhance the fun. For most audiences though, the draw is seeing Kathleen Turner do her stuff – and boy does she.
It's unfortunate that Turner's English accent is hit or miss, but more distracting is the way she sometimes swallows words. That combination of vocal problems makes it difficult understanding the snippets of "Applehurst" which are played throughout the play.
There's no taking away from the awesome stage presence of Turner and she pounds the stage and her lines in an effort to squeeze out of them every bit of humor or horror. Alsip is good as the childlike, rudderless girl from the Swinging Sixties and Aidem is as fascinating as a cobra.
Olga Merediz is the effervesent and slightly mad, Madame Xenia, a constantly intrusive clairvoyant who lives in the same apartment building as June and Childie. Merediz functions as the "nutty neighbor/nutty friend" comic relief comedies depend on.
Jane Greenwood's costumes are spot on. Mayfair chic for Aiden, Carnaby Street for Aslip Gypsy thrift shop for Merediz and L.L. Bean for Turner? Despite a professional production, intriguing performances, and steady direction by Turner, the play misses the mark. The Killing of Sister George would probably be more moving if its lead character were not so unsympathetic. It's hard to like someone who is so self-centered and cruel, not withstanding that we have little explanation of where June comes from emotionally.
©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
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