The Killing of Sister George
Ann Lemons Pollack – St. Louis Eat and Drink, July 11, 2015
“The Killing Of Sister George” is one of those truly wicked comedies, funny and yet deeply uncomfortable to watch. Max & Louie Productions has it on the boards at the Wool Theatre of the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur. It’s the tale of an actress in a BBC soap opera. Sister George – “sister” being an old title given to head nurses in the UK for many decades – is her character, a public health, or district nurse, warm and beloved in the make-believe village where the soap takes place. Lavonne Byers is the actress, June Buckridge, who’s so identified with the character that she’s often addressed as George by her flatmate Alice and neighbor Madame Xenia.
But the real person is an angry, domineering woman who orders the younger Alice, whom she frequently calls “Childie”, around, insults and threatens her and throws things. And, oh – she’s also frightened that she’s losing her job. She swills gin, smokes cigars, stomps around and we quickly learn that she and Childie are lovers. In this case, that’s probably not the best use of the term. Is George paranoid or is she really about to be killed off in the script? And with her temper, what happens if she is?
Byers, whose fine ability to pick up physical mannerisms as well as voices of characters shines here. She growls and glares and gripes manfully. Alice/Childie (Shannon Nara) whose doll collection forms part of the set and a prop in the action, seems of indeterminate age, and of closeted motive – is she naive or manipulative? Nara makes her real and appropriately cipher-like.
The play takes place when it was written, in the mid-Sixties, giving costume designer Cyndi Lohrman plenty to work with. George probably hates her simple, Chanel-ish suits and Childie’s usually-vague ensembles accurately reflect her thinking,. Lohrman has certainly hit spot on with George’s boss, Mercy Croft, played by Erin Kelly, whose clothes reflect the hybrid of Carnaby Street and Jacqueline Kennedy that made elegance easy, and Madame Xemia, Cooper Shaw, the psychic who’s the neighbor, showing hippie-chic a-borning. Both actors do well, both with their acting and showing off the clothes their characters would surely have chosen.
Brooke Edwards directs these folks and keeps things from descending into Bedlam. There’s no attempt to make anyone particularly sympathetic, a wise choice – only Madame Xenia seems to have no ulterior motives. It’s not an easy evening, certainly; one has the occasional urge to run onstage and slap some sense into the stupid cow, so vivid is the portrayal. But it’s worthwhile.