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“The Glory of Living” by Rebecca Gilman.
Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, NYC. Aug. 1 - 18, 2013. Tues. - Sat. 8 PM; Sat. and Sun. 2 PM.
Tickets are $18 at www.BrownPaperTickets.com.
The Glory of Living
It’s a Southern love story. He rapes them. She shoots them. His mother babysits their children. Rebecca Gilman’s “The Glory of Living” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2002.
Gilman’s plays fall into two groups, struggling professionals or the working class. Both have their share of violence but the aggression differs. “Spinning into Butter,” about brutal campus politics and skewed political correctness, transferred from the Goodman Theatre to Lincoln Center, then to the Royal Court Theatre in London. Gilman wrote the screen adaptation. It was named one of the best plays of 1999 by Time, and eventually became the third-most-produced play of the 2000-2001 season. Some of the working class plays are skimpier and require a good group of actors to bring out the nuances. Fortunately the cast of Revolve Productions under the crisp direction of Ashley Kelly Tata is one of the best off off-Broadway groups I’ve seen in a long time.
Lisa (Hannah Sloat: War Horse at Lincoln Center) and Clint (Hardy Pinnell) meet in her mom’s shabby living room -- more half a room divided in two by curtains. Her mom (Stacee Mandeville) warns Clint to keep his hands off Lisa, not because she’s 15 but because she hurt the last guy who got fresh, then she vanishes off stage to make noisy love to Clint’s hyperactive buddy. This is how she has been paying the bill since her husband died five years ago. Clint steals a kiss and talks. Lisa is especially fascinated by his jailhouse stay, and pretty soon, they’re running off together. It’s love at first meeting, trailer park style.
A lot has happened in a year. Clint has done a stint for robbery and seems surer of himself and Lisa. Lisa has delivered twins. He rescues her from juvenile detention. She is grateful and needy. Clint is a little bored with marriage, so Lisa picks up girls for him. Sometimes it’s a threesome, sometimes she drives around until the girl goes. (“You’re quite a find,” Clint comments to an underage runaway he has handcuffed to the bed. “Lisa done good.”) Then Clint adds a new twist to their game. He hands Lisa his gun. We see Lisa interacting and identifying with the girls, who are relieved to escape Clint. Later she phones the police about the location of their bodies.
It’s not until after her arrest that we learn the full story. The last girl doesn’t press rape charges so Clint has a short prison stay. Lisa, who confesses, is up for murder. Her lawyer (Richard Hutzler in a powerful performance) understands the emotional abuse but he can’t prove anything. His vision is the clarity that closes the play with a revelation and compassion.
Slowly, Gilman strips Lisa’s psyche layer by layer. Although she lacks a moral core, she is at heart caring; but she will do anything she is told in exchange for love. Her privation -- while it is no excuse for her actions -- is so deep she’s like a war victim. There are many victims in the play but no villains. And the runaway or naïve girls Lisa brings home to Clint might easily have become other Lisas.
In Sloat’s capable hands, Lisa changes subtly. The fresh-faced girl who opens the play disappears; Lisa’s her face is drawn and resigned, an old prison face. Pinnell’s Clint is at once creepy and seductive, a center of energy and will. He plays his con right through to the end. Hutzler’s southern gentleman lawyer in his trim beige suit, tie and shined shoes becomes a new center for Lisa, a voice of empathy in an indifferent world. Director Ashley Kelly Tata created distinct characters, even among the kidnapped girls, so that each encounter has its own dynamic, building slowly toward horror. It’s a dark play about the bottom-feeders of our society and Revolve Productions in their premiere season in the tiny Access Theatre space created a memorable evening. Designer Alexandra Regazzoni made some impressive set and costume choices on a limited budget. Attention to detail and the script go a long way.
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