"The Killing of Sister George"
by David A. Rosenberg
Timidity is one thing no one can accuse Kathleen Turner of. She barrels through Frank Marcus' “The Killing of Sister George” at Long Wharf like Patton in Europe. To be fair, her character, June Buckridge, is as dainty as a truck. She’s worshipped by radio audiences for her role as the nurse who cures everyone in sight in the British radio serial, “Applehurst.”
What she can’t cure is her relationship with Alice, called “Childie,” her 34-year-old lover with a juvenile attachment to her doll collection. When George suspects her show’s producers will kill her off, partly because she drunkenly insulted a pair of nuns, all hell breaks loose. She torments the opportunistic Childie, consults a psychic and further harasses Mrs. Mercy Croft, the hypocritical bearer of bad news from the BBC.
The play had a good run in London and New York and was made into a film that, because of its overt lesbianism, was given an “X” rating. The Long Wharf version is a bastardization. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher was called in to, as a program note puts it, “re-conceive some aspects of the story.” What he’s done, instead, is to thoroughly confuse matters. The reason for George’s ultimate fate is now ascribed to an oversight, which cheapens the character and the play.
Although Turner’s direction is efficient, her performance is not. She can play this kind of woman easily (look at her superb turn in “Virginia Woolf”), but here it’s not just her British accent that wavers. She brings zero vulnerability to the role, resulting in a completely unlikable character. Clea Alsip as Childie and Olga Merediz as a neighbor do good work, but it’s Betsy Aidem as Mrs. Croft who is the most impressive. We’ve come a long way, baby, from the world of “Sister George.”