The Killing of Sister George

Newspaper Review

Chris Gibson – The Broadway World, July 16, 2015

BWW Reviews: Max & Louie Productions’ Brilliant THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE

If you’ve seen director Robert Aldrich’s 1968 film version of The Killing of Sister George you’re probably going to be greatly surprised when you see the actual play it was based on (written by Frank Marcus). The film was initially rated “X” due to the era in which it was released, as well as the inclusion of a two minute sequence that’s much more titillating than anything present in the original work itself. But, things are different these days. Television shows broadcast during what used to be referred to as the “family hour” are far more racy with their content and dialog than anything you’ll encounter watching Max & Louie Productions’ superb staging of this play. Marcus crafted a brilliant, pitch black comedic farce that may have just been a bit too subtle for the motion picture industry, which, at the time, was just beginning to explore alternative lifestyles in more graphic fashion. The film is good, but the play is much better. See it for yourself. It’s required viewing as far as I’m concerned.

For six years, actress June Buckridge has been portraying the character of Sister George on a BBC radio program. But, the ratings have been slipping, so a change in the show is inevitable. Sister George, beloved by those who tune in regularly, is a nurturing district nurse who takes pride in caring for the citizens of the fictional “Applehurst”community. And, June could not be further removed from the character if she tried. She’s a gin guzzling, cigar chomping lesbian, given to bouts of cruelty aimed at her aptly named companion, Childie. But, after June assaults a pair of nuns during a drunken fit, the producers decide to kill off Sister George, banking on a spike in interest from their fan base.

This isn’t meant as a slight to any of the fine actresses we are privileged to have here in St. Louis, but when I heard that Lavonne Byers was playing Sister George/June Buckridge I couldn’t imagine that there could possibly be anyone else who could tackle the role and pull if off with such considerable skill. Byers has had a long string of terrific performances in recent years, and this ranks as one of her finest. Her portrayal is perfectly executed and expertly conceived. Shannon Nara is also quite good as Alice “Childie” McNaught, but with all the humiliation she receives from June you wonder why she would stay with her, until you realize that she is truly childlike in her behavior, needing someone strong to cling to and guide her. Erin Kelley is great as Mrs. Mercy Croft, who works for the BBC, and who has the unpleasant duty of informing June of the changes to come. It’s particularly interesting to see the sapphic side of her character come out as she comforts Childie. Cooper Shaw provides an amusing and entertaining presence as their downstairs neighbor, Madame Xenia.

Brooke Edwards does a marvelous job directing this production. Though her notes in the program mention that she wasn’t aware of the play until being asked to direct it, she certainly proves herself worthy of the task with her splendid work guiding this cast. Dunsi Dai’s scenic design neatly captures the look and feel of an actual British apartment from the period, and it’s enhanced greatly by Kyra Bishop’s props. Cyndi Lohrmann’s costumes also fit the times and characters well, and Bess Moynihan’s lighting is straight forward and effective. Michael B. Perkins contributes a sparkling sound design that blends vintage radio programs with pop tunes from the times.

Max & Louie Productions have, once again, given us a forgotten gem to behold with their scintillating presentation of The Killing of Sister George, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The show continues through July 26, 2015 at the Wool Studio Theatre.