The Killing of Sister George
By Frank Marcus
may have lost some of its shock value,
but it still entertains.
By F. KATHLEEN FOLEY, Special to The Los Angeles Times February 15, 2001
Frank Marcus’ “The Killing of Sister George” broke new ground when it was first produced in 1964. A far cry from “The Children’s Hour,” in which the lesbianism was psychological rather than explicit, “George” frankly depicted a lesbian relationship, albeit a grossly pathological one.
Nowadays, the shock value has ebbed into amusing quaintness; “George” would pass muster on any prime-time television show. Nonetheless, it remains sophisticated camp of a high order. Mindful of that, director Daniel O’Connor goes for the laughs in his staging at the Pacific Resident Theatre, with varying degrees of success.
Set in swinging London in the mid-’60s, the play’s offbeat protagonist, June Buckridge (Nancy Linehan Charles), has become better known to her millions of fans as Sister George, the wholesome spinster nurse on the long-running television serial “Applehurst.” George’s beloved on-screen persona has earned her effusive recognition from various charities and organizations, including the title of “Miss Humanity,” a sobriquet that contrasts drastically with George’s off-screen life.
Unapologetically butch, and boozy to boot, George lives with her longtime lover, Childie (Francesca Adair), an infantile chit who dresses like the dolls she collects, and is subject to George’s kinky whims. George fears she is being written out of the series, “murdered” by the mavens at the BBC in retaliation for her scandalous roistering on the local pub scene. When oh-so-proper BBC exec Mrs. Mercy Croft (Clarinda Ross) arrives on the scene, the stage is set for George’s small-screen demise.
Director Robert Aldrich’s 1968 film of the play featured a topless Susannah York in a controversial female-on-female nude scene that made headlines. Marcus’ play is less lurid, and O’Connor misses some essential sexual subtexts. An arch-manipulator, Childie has tired of George and is auditioning for a replacement sugar mama. But Childie’s interactions with Mrs. Mercy are mysteriously indirect. Ross’ unfailing primness gives us little sense of Mrs. Mercy’s predatory attraction to Childie, while Adair’s flirtatious advances to Mrs. Mercy come across as more clunky than seductive.
Despite these missed beats, the production is richly realized, a hilarious character study featuring a larger-than-life performance by Charles and an amusing portrayal by Sarah Zinsser as George’s psychic neighbor.
Kis Knekt’s appropriately fussy set mingles Childie’s feminine bric-a-brac with George’s manly memorabilia. Kathi O’Donohue’s lighting, Audrey Eisner’s costumes and Alexander Enberg’s sound are also noteworthy.
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* “The Killing of Sister George,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends April 8. $20-$23. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.