Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Rebecca Gilman's The Glory of Living is a Powerful Piece of Gritty Drama
Also see Richard's review of The Man of Destiny
The Playhouse, San Francisco's newest theatre company, continues its first season with the West Coast premiere of Rebecca Gilman's critically acclaimed The Glory of Living, a chilling glimpse into the heart and mind of a teenage serial killer.
Gilman, one of our country's most celebrated playwrights, takes a look at a violent subculture that we normally don't wish to see. The play was first performed in 1996 at the Circle Theatre in Forest Park, Illinois, where it won the Joseph Jefferson Citation for Best Play in Chicago and the American Theatre Critics Association's Osborn Award for Best New American Play. The chilling drama was presented as part of the Royal Court Theatre Festival in London in 1999. Michael Billington of The Guardian said "plays don't come much tougher or more compassionate" than this drama. Ms. Gilman became the first American to receive the Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright. New York saw a production directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in October 2001 that starred Oscar winner Anna Paquin in the title role. Critic John Simon said "that Rebecca Gilman's characters in The Glory of Living are both risible and reprehensible, but not patronized or caricatured, is itself an accomplishment." Both of these critics reflect my thoughts on the play.
The Glory of Living is a potent and powerful play that is very reminiscent of the film Badlands with some Bonnie and Clyde thrown in for good measure. The story, set in the Deep South, is about Lisa (Lauren English) whose mother (Linda Ruth Cardozo) is a working whore. It is the story of this 15 year old who "escapes" by running away with smooth talking car thief Clint (Michael James). They marry and, like Bonnie and Clyde, they pursue a life of crime by robbing stores as they move from sleazy motels to seedy motels.
The couple's latest scam involves Lisa luring teenage girls into her car and taking them to Clint for "fun and games." All of the girls have problems of their own, such as one who is a mentally challenged, another who has a miserable domestic situation and one who drinks a little too much. After the girls have been abused and raped by Clint, Lisa takes them out and kills them. Lisa, who is not pure evil, has an instinct that forces her to call the police anonymously to tell them where the bodies are located. The couple is arrested at the end of the first act.
The second act is about Lisa's attorney (Hal Savage) attempting to probe the motives for her cruelty and her self incrimination. She readily admits to killing the victims, but we really don't fully understand her actions. She herself does not understand, but says everyone dies sooner or later. However, we know that there is not really such a thing as a complete moral vacuum so the playwright attempts to symbolize a possible motive in the last poignant scene of the drama.
Lauren English (This is Our Youth and Sisters) gives an astonishing performance in the role of the abused and neglected teenager destined for death row. She portrays the distant person with brilliant insight into the character. Her scenes in the second act are outstanding, especially when she is interrogated by the police with a video camera showing her "talking head" on a large screen. She is also marvelous in the last scene with her lawyer as he attempts to find out just what makes this person tick. We get a certain insight as to why she is this way by her brilliant acting in the scene.
Clint, played by Michael Janes (Kerouac in Visions of Kerouac and numerous Off Broadway productions) portrays the husband with a frighteningly amiable menace, alternating between physical abuse and threats and words of affection. He is remarkable in the role. He is also the fight choreographer for this production and does a wonderful job in assimilating realistic violence in the scenes.
All of the supporting roles are beautifully acted by a large cast of actors. Los Angeles and San Francisco actor Hal Savage gives a skilled performance as the lawyer, and Brandon Conner shines in his one scene as the witness for the prosecution. Janna Sobel gives a good account of herself as the slow-minded girl who becomes a victim. Linda-Ruth Cardozo, Will Simkins, Julie Glomson, Susan Stepanian and Matt Klein's lesser roles are caringly realized.
Bill English's direction accentuates and even intensifies the play's chilly clinical tone. Video and still shots are incorporated in scenes in which the actors play in front of a large screen with minimal furniture. John Behrens and Troy Paiva do exceptional work on these shots to apply a chilling film noir mood to the drama.
The Glory of Living plays through March 13 at The Playhouse, 536 Sutter Street between Powell and Mason, San Francisco. For tickets call the box office at 415-677-9596, ticketweb.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The company's next production will be the West Coast premiere of Michele Lowe's The Smell of the Kill, the black comedy that recently played on Broadway. It runs April 10th through May 15th.