By: Paulanne Simmons
When Frank Marcus’s The Killing of Sister George opened at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre in 1
965, it caused something of a scandal. Not because of its story about a radio star who is being written out of a long-running serial "Applehurst," but rather because of the relationship between Sister George (in real life June Buckridge) and her much younger companion, Alice McNaught.
Back in those days, homosexuality was not presented onstage, let alone a relationship between women. Almost fifty years later, with the shock value gone, there’s not much to recommend even the finest revival.
The TACT revival, directed by Drew Barr, features Caitlin O’Connell as Sister Goerge, Margot White as Alice, and Cynthia Harris as Marcy Croft, the BBC executive who delivers the news to Buckridge. Although all these actors do a credible job, the characters are so over-the-top it’s hard to decide whether this is a hilarious farce or a probe into the sadomasochistic relationship of a bitchy, overbearing matron and her childlike ward.
Croft might have brought a touch of reality to the plot, and, in fact she does, until she gets so caught up in June and Alice’s relationship that she turns it into a weird triangle. Perhaps this three-hander about women is meant to indicate that without men around women are all off the wall.
Adding to the absurdity, Narelle Sisson’s set crams the stage with so many dolls it’s a wonder the actors don’t trip over them. It’s even more of a mystery why Sister George puts up with Alice’s obsession.
It’s sort of fun to see Buckridge, who plays a compassionate nurse on radio, turn out to be a domineering and abusive woman given to alcoholic rages. But although Alice draws some consolation from her collection of dolls, it’s still not easy to see why she stays with this awful woman.
It must be the sex. Or is it?
To make this play relevant now, Barr would have done better to increase the tension by making the implied specific. As out of control as these two ladies are, we never see anything more than an almost chaste kiss. If they had only gotten down and dirty!
"The Killing of Sister George" continues through Nov. 1 at the Beckett Theater at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street, Clinton; 212-279-4200, telecharge.com.