"The Killing of Sister George"


--Irene Backalenick
 

“The Killing of Sister George,” is billed as a “naughty comedy.” And how can it be otherwise, given a plot which kills off a sitcom character? The comic element is that loyal viewers (and the actors themselves) take their fictional radio and television characters so seriously.

 

This updated version of Frank Marcus’s 1964 play has been adapted by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and now serves as the opening play -- the “grand opening” of the newly-renovated Long Wharf. Kathleen Turner, who directs the play, also takes the lead.

 

The potential for comedy is there, since the noted film actress claims to be drawn to comedy. But barriers stand in the way. For starters, Turner is not at her best on stage. Every line is garbled, difficult to understand. Nor can we blame attempts at a British accent, despite the play’s British origins. (In fact, no one in the cast attempts an accent, which is just as well.) The difficulty is Turner’s own rhythm of speech, and if she is attempting a kind of accent, it is her own secret.

 

The play deals with a radio sitcom character called Sister George (Turner), a veritable angel who ministers to the sick and poor. But Sister George is played by the bossy, mean, self-centered June Buckridge, a Lesbian who swills whiskey and humiliates her mate Childie. “Eat my cigar,” she orders Childie at one point. “Kiss the hem of my skirt.” Moreover, Buckridge’s eye is always on the main chance, on money, in contrast to the values of the saintly Sister George.

 

While the plot is straightforward in the first act, it moves into confused twists by the second act, with improbable motivations. Buckridge has had a violent altercation with two nuns, and promises to make a charitable contribution to compensate. Because she never follows through on this promise, she is fired from her radio role -- and, in fact, Sister George is killed off. It is unlikely that this peccadillo would have had such a result, but it hardly matters. Who cares what happens to Sister George? Or June Buckridge, for that matter.

 

Despite the plot’s implausible twists and Turner’s garbled performance, “Killing” offers a fine supporting cast. Betsey Aidem, as Mrs. Croft, a figure of authority, descends on Buckridge and delivers threats in a deliciously ladylike manner. Olga Merediz, as the neighbor given to spiritual insights, is a delightful figure of fun, and Clea Alsip brings a touching authority to her role as Childie, the girl-child and June’s lover.

 

Turner herself has her comic moments, played out through body and facial language. But it is not enough to keep “Killing” afloat. All told, this show proves to be a less than grand re-opening for Long Wharf, despite the theater’s new store-front fa├žade and comfortable seats.

 

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com


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