The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) production of The Killing of Sister George leaves you wondering why they would choose this play. TACT says, The Killing of Sister George is a “groundbreaking drama about the nature of sexual identity, power and politics in a changing world.” It may be that the play as written explores those themes, but they are not explored in this production.
The Killing of Sister George, written by Frank Marcus in the early 1960’s, is about a sadomasochistic relationship between an older radio star, June Buckridge, aka Sister George, (played by Caitlin O’Connell) and a somewhat younger woman, Alice, aka Childie, (played by Margot White). At the beginning of the play George (which is what everyone calls June) has perceived that Sister George, the character she plays in the radio drama, Applehurst, will soon be written out of the series. She is correct.
Mrs Mercy Croft, (played by Cynthia Harris) a producer for the BBC, is the bearer of the news and not only kills George’s beloved character, Sister George, but steals George’s lover/companion of seven years, Childie (which is what everyone calls Alice).
The Killing of Sister George, as directed by Drew Barr, has no emotional depth. The relationship between George and Childie makes no sense because there is no chemistry, no desire, no sexuality. We wonder, from what we see of George and Childie on stage, why Childie would be with George at all. There is a scene where the couple are dressed as Laurel and Hardy to attend a costume ball and they play out a typical Laurel and Hardy skit. White (Childie) shows some joy in this comic relief but O’Connell (George) seems disinterested and bored. There is just no chemistry.
Necessary sexual tension is missing from this production. The lusting, the need (even if dysfunctional in it’s sadomasochist expression) that must exist between these two lovers of seven years is non-existent. Similarly Mercy’s desire for Childie is non-existent. There is no indication of Mercy’s longing to possess Childie, and to lure her away from George, until it becomes evident with the speaking of one line, “You will be my little girl.”
I wanted to see this play because of my knowledge of the film version of 1968, directed by Robert Aldrich. The film adaptation was dark and nuanced, and explored complicated themes of self-worth. Not only the worth we get from our relationships but those we get from our work and the persona we present to the world. It is possible that Marcus’ original theatrical script is not a piercing or intelligent a exploration into the power play and manipulations that exist in sexual relationships, or the complexities, and self-recriminations inherent in a lesbian relationship at a time when it was not acceptable. Certainly this production did not explore, or even lead me to ponder, “sexual identity, power and politics.”
The Killing of Sister George
By Frank Marcus; directed by Drew Barr
With: Cynthia Harris (Mrs. Mercy Croft), Caitlin O’Connell (June Buckridge/Sister George), Dana Smith-Croll (Madame Xenia), Margot White (Alice Childie McNaught)
Set and costume design by Narelle Sissons; light design by Mary Louise Geiger; sound design and original music by Daniel Kluger; props design by Samantha Shoffner; production stage manager, Jeff Meyers; asst. stage manager, Kelly Burns; production manager, Cate Digirolamo; technical direction, Stephen Sury
Presented by TACT at The Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd St. Performances through Nov. 1, 2014. For tickets contact Telecharge 212 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com