KPBS AIRDATE: September 6, 2002
Both titles give the wrong impression. There’s no murder in “The Killing of Sister George.” And there isn’t much depth in “Deep River.” Lamb’s Players Theatre is calling “Deep River” the premiere of a 20 year-old story. David McFadzean, who was Lambs’ managing director and resident playwright in the ’80s, penned the piece that went from the local premiere to an off-Broadway production under the title “China Fish.” McFadzean himself went on to TV-land where he wrote for Carol Burnett and Roseanne Barr and co-created “Home Improvement.” Now he’s decided to revisit and re-write the piece. It bears the undeniable mark of someone who’s spent a lot of time with laugh-tracks. The play feels more like a sitcom than a dramedy; setups and exchanges often feel contrived, and engineered for a laugh, though the premise is not at all funny. Young Valerie Mckay just can’t let her father go, and she invites him back to her mother’s house at the most inopportune times. Meanwhile, her Mom suffers in silence, supported by a boring, nice-guy neighbor and her humorously sarcastic visiting sister. The performances, especially by Tania Henetz as Valerie, Deborah Gilmour Smyth as her mom, David Cochran Heath as her dad and Tom Stephenson as the neighborhood nerd, are more rich and rewarding than the play itself. Mike Buckley’s design and Karin Filijan’s lighting are likewise more detailed and credible than the vehicle they serve.
“The Killing of Sister George” was also written decades ago, and it made a controversial movie in 1968. Playwright Frank Marcus draws a dark and dismal picture of lesbian relationships and some women still don’t find the black comedy all that amusing. There’s a lot more S&M and B&D than would make any theatergoer comfortable. Despite some witty scenes and ready laughs, not to mention a dead-on take-off of Laurel and Hardy, the piece isn’t as funny as skilled comic director Tim Irving would have us think. The murder of the title is metaphorical, referring to the cancellation of the saintly BBC radio character portrayed by a monstrous, butch, alcoholic actress, June Buckridge, superbly played at Diversionary Theatre by Priscilla Allen. Her partner Alice, a whimpering, simpering, much-younger woman, wonderfully rendered by Laura Bozanich, is a passive-aggressive victim of June’s abuse. Then there’s Jenni Prisk’s stern BBC exec and Jillian Frost as the psychic next door. None is at all likable, or at all what she seems. They’re obscenely manipulative, each with an unsavory agenda and a questionable past. The set and lighting are great, but the play is so dark, you forget it’s a comedy.
Now to really end the summer on a high note, you shouldn’t miss “Ragtime,” in a gorgeous, flawless production at Moonlight Amphitheatre.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.