Regional Reviews: Chicago
The Glory of Living
Access to TV channels may be among the least of our dissimilarities to rural southern whites, and it's probably fair to say this group gets little sympathy from the rest of the nation. Initially, that would seem to be Ms. Gilman's perspective as well. She provides us with enough ironies and jokes at the characters' expense to reinforce our feelings of superiority. It's only at the end of the piece we realize we've been set up.
The story concerns Lisa (Kelly O'Sullivan), fifteen years old at the beginning of the play and daughter of a rural prostitute. Though supported by her mother (Lynda Newton), Lisa's essentially a neglected child, left in the living room to watch TV while her mother (loudly) services clients behind no more than a drawn curtain. It doesn't take ex-con Clint (Darrell W. Cox), more than 10 years her senior, to overcome Lisa's initial suspicions and resistance simply by paying attention to her. He arrives at her home with a buddy who wants to employ the services of Lisa's mother. Clint is uninterested in the mother's services, but not because he's such a decent guy as we might initially infer. He just prefers them younger.
In the next scene, which occurs two years later, Lisa and Clint are married (with two children who live with Clint's mother) and just beginning a spree of kidnapping and rape of underage girls. Such a girl (referred to in the script only as "girl" and played by Jamie Parker) is in skimpy underwear and handcuffed to the bed. It's rough stuff to watch, even with Gilman's dark comic relief, mostly coming from Clint and Lisa's perspective that their activities are routine at least to them ("How's my hair" Clint asks Lisa as he prepares to go out in search of a new young girl). Clint manages to not only get Lisa to kill two of the victims after they've finished with them, but also to manage things so that he can escape any culpability. Throughout the first act, we wonder if there's any point to this freak show. By the end of the second, Gilman's point becomes clear. The rest of us never really care much about people like these characters until they break the law and seem to pose a threat.
This theme, though it's one worth considering, may be a little slight to carry a two-hour twenty minute play as Gilman developed it. I'm not sure she has a lot of insight into her characters, but she draws them clearly enough to make us at least see what she sees. This production's cast, led by O'Sullivan and Cox, provides finely detailed performances that help us understand what might draw a young girl to a violent older man. O'Sullivan has the unblemished skin and enough baby fat to look like the pubescent Lisa at age fifteen, and the acting chops to show the character's progression over the four or five years of the play's action. At the start, she is guarded and almost nonverbal, like an abused pet. As she ages, experiencing parenthood and life of the run with Clint, she gets ever-so slightly more confident. By the play's end she's gained a small amount of wisdom and maturity, understanding that it's come too late to do her much good. O'Sullivan impressively creates a fully realized person from the nonexpressive character Gilman has given her. Darrell W. Cox again gives a highly nuanced performance. His Clint can be a sensitive and charming seducer, and then turn on a dime into anger and violence.
Director Carla Russell makes this work by keeping her cast in a mostly understated mode, always playing their characters without commenting on them, which would be an easy temptation to indulge. Joe Jahraus deserves praise for his sympathetic portrayal of Lisa's exasperated, court-appointed defense attorney, who turns out to be the only person in her life to pay attention to her without abusing her in the process. Eric Burgher is appropriately slow as the loyal but dim boyfriend of a victim. Also impressive are Kristen Totten, Jamie Parker and Whitney Schaffer as Lisa's victims and Lynda Newton as her mother.
Keith Pitts' set ingeniously transforms from locations that include the home of Lisa and her mother, motel rooms, a police station and locations within a prison. It's hard to picture a better production of this piece, and the result is a vivid and haunting if small story about people on the fringes of society we can so easily dismiss.
The Glory of Living has been extended through February 18, 2006. Performances will be held Fridays, Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. (there will be no performance on December 24th, 25th, aDecember 31st and January 1st). Tickets are $22.00 on Fridays and Saturdays, and $18.00 on Sundays. Tickets available by phone at (773) 549-1815, through TicketWeb at www.ticketweb.com.