The title role of The Killing of Sister George is an aging and sadist lesbian whose character on a British soap opera has met an untimely death. So where does she go from there? She shows up at Rising Action Theatre, of course, where once-groundbreaking gay themes find a new home.
First performed in 1964 and turned into a film in 1968, The Killing of Sister George is both expository in its portrayal of society's treatment of women and complicated in its funny and not-so-funny representation of gay couples. It tells the story of title character June Buckridge, who plays the character Sister George on the radio show Applehurst. She so identifies with the character that she's always referred to only as George.
But unlike the wound-mending nurse she plays on the radio, in reality she's a riot of a woman — portrayed by Janet Weakly with a Jim Carrey knack for gesture. George swigs Beefeater and chomps on a cigar (which is, cough, annoying in the small theater). George boasts a big personality and shows off a penchant for cruelty; it's all very catholic.
Her radio character is killed off perhaps because of ratings but more likely due to her debauched lifestyle as a superbutch. She refuses to suppress her personality by succumbing to prescribed gender roles or living in the closet. Instead, she assaults real-life nuns after nights at the pub and lives openly. Her partner is the disturbingly masochistic, doll-wielding, "flat mate" Childie. In a casting error, the 34-year-old lover is played by Andi Maria Morrow, whose Lolita-style proportions seem much too young to be believable in the role. The age disparity makes lines like "She's my flat mate in more ways than one" feel icky.
Sister George's radio death turns her violent and demanding. She's always drunk and forces Childie to eat a cigar butt and drink bath water. This may have shocked early audiences with its unfavorable representations of power-abusing, lover-stealing lesbians and hyperbutch brutes who make their girlfriends eat cigar butts. But this wouldn't be funny if it were Childie's boyfriend who wanted her to drink his bath water. Being gay doesn't make violence funny.
Enter the fashionable power bitch Mercy Croft, who drops some not-so-subtle hints that she can save Childie from the sadistic George. Mercy is played by Merry Jo Cortada with the perfect balance of cool restraint turned maternal. She is devilishly appealing in her villainous scheming and as the source of life-altering blows and opportunity.
Thus, the problem with this production reveals itself. Either the anticlimatic script is too dated or director David Goldyn doesn't push the cast hard enough for a wacked-out, knee-slapping good time. But as is, Sister George is a hard script to swallow. Probably kind of like that cigar butt.