Published in Gay and Lesbian Times September 5, 2002
It was a lesbian breakthrough and a lesbian nightmare. While “The Killing of Sister George” knocked down barriers and opened eyes, it also drew the wrath of the gay community, since it gave a highly skewed view of lesbian life, all S&M and B&D and little more. Some boycotted and banned the 1968 film version of Frank Marcus’ play, calling it blatantly, intolerably homophobic. Needless to say, that and the X-rating (for explicit sex scenes) increased the viewership exponentially.
Sister George is a fictional BBC radio character, played by temperamental, unbalanced, alcoholic actress June Buckridge, a monstrous bulldyke. Her partner Alice, a whimpering, simpering, much-younger woman (whom June condescendingly calls Childie), is a passive, submissive victim of regular abuse. Then there’s the stern BBC exec (played, with no-nonsense austerity and wonderful hats, by Jenni Prisk) and the psychic next door, Madame Xenia (an energetic Jillian Frost, who sports a transient and indeterminate accent).
None of these unlikable women is quite what she seems. They’re all obscenely manipulative; each has an unsavory agenda and a questionable past. The killing of the title is metaphorical, referring to the elimination of Buckridge’s beloved character, a saintly, upbeat, hymn-singing soap opera nurse, moped-ing her way around a fictional small-town England. June is, of course, the complete antithesis of George: a vicious boozer who repeatedly embarrasses the network when she gets out of control, most recently by assaulting two novitiate nuns in a cab. Now it’s time to put her out to pasture (more apt an image than one might think), and she’s not taking the news lying down, though she does get to witness her own ‘funeral.’
For a comedy, it’s awfully dark and disturbing. Adroit director Tim Irving, a whiz with the comic turn, focuses on the light and downplays the shadows of the piece. The high point comes at the top of Act Two, when George and Childie dress for a drag ball as Laurel and Hardy. Priscilla Allen and Laura Bozanich are dead ringers for the comedic duo, and their little ‘number’ is hilarious. Allen is a commanding presence, and this juicy, melodramatic role allows (no, encourages) her to display an extensive emotional range. She’s less the diva than the bitch, but that works okay, too. Oddly enough, at the end, June winds up being the only sympathetic character. Bozanich is wonderful as the damaged, conniving Childie, who turns out to be ineffectual and unchanging, even when she attempts to take control of her life. The subtle seduction scene between Childie and her would-be rescuer, Mrs. Mercy (Prisk) is a winner. So is David Wiener’s set, a detailed London flat — one of his best designs at Diversionary.
This isn’t what one would call an amiable introduction to lesbian life. But sometimes the dark side needs to be seen — especially when it’s tempered by this much nasty black humor.
“The Killing of Sister George” runs through September 28 at Diversionary Theatre; 619-220-0097.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.