ON THE STAGE AT THE PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE
The Killing of Sister George
By Frank Marcus
Special to the Mirror
The camera tightens on Sister George, riding the rustic roads of Applehurst on her trusty moped. Heading for the home of an ailing parishioner, she waves to merry townspeople by the way, her habit blowing in the breeze, and all are cheered by her presence. But, as she breaks into a joyful rendition of her favorite hymn, Sister George doesn’t see the 18-ton truck coming around the corner, bringing a violent death for the beloved TV nun, and unemployment for June Buckridge, semi-closeted lesbian actress on this BBC serial. The ruin of conventional George and unconventional June is the subject of Frank Marcus’ play “The Killing of Sister George,” now on stage at the Pacific Resident Theatre. Set in 1960s London, this often entertaining black comedy is inhabited by characters who have dramatically reinvented themselves in order to gain acceptance, love, money, or all of the above. Dependent on her alter-ego for the means to such riches, June (whom all refer to as George) is shattered when her old-fashioned nun is eliminated by producers in favor of more “flawed” and “credible characters.” Ironically, she has allowed her off-camera persona to deteriorate to an alarming degree. Played by Nancy Linehan Charles, George exists in a nearly continuous state of professional frustration and jealous rage, imposing sadistic punishments on her companion, Childie, who, as the name suggests, takes perverse pleasure in such play. Francesca Adair portrays the frolicsome Childie with unexpected subtlety, lending both surprise and inevitability to the final revelations about her character. While Linehan Charles creates a wickedly quirky, believable George, neither she nor director Daniel O’Connor have succeeded in giving sufficient nuance to this complicated character. Consequently, a poignant confessional monologue in Act II, though well acted, sticks out like a sore thumb against the one-note bluster that dominates Linehan Charles’s performance. This disconnected effect is most glaring in George’s final breakdown scene, which is understood by this production as merely absurd. But it isn’t for a lack in the leading roles that Mrs. Mercy Croft (Clarinda Ross) and Madame Xenia (Sarah Zinsser) steal this show. In her brief moments on stage, Zinsser delivers dry comic moments as the neighborly, bejeweled astrologer who helps George get through her own funeral. And as Mrs. Mercy Croft, BBC image maker with a death warrant for George, Clarinda Ross is simply enchanting. Impeccably dressed by Audrey Eisner (in slick skirt suits as sharp as Croft’s sing-song derisions), Ross is equally skilled as axe-man and seductress. With a control that makes every syllable a fresh insult or sly maneuver, Croft wins, appropriately, this battle of disguises and leaves with more than George’s job.