by: JK Clarke
What is it about poor, uneducated, midwestern or southern white folk living in squalor that makes contemporary playwrights eager to put their stories on stage? Are so many of America’s newest bards miraculously springing forth from culturally void, impoverished and subliterate communities, which they must share with the world? Or is it that a large number of people in the theater community are so fond of the gritty, rural toughness of, say, a Sam Shepherd type of playwright that they are myopically driven to continually mount again and again these kinds of plays?
Either way, add Revolve Productions’ presentation of The Glory of Living to that canon of “disenfranchised hick”-fests that seem of late to dot the city’s stages; and they all tend to feel as out of place as a trucker hat on an East Village trust-fund hipster.
It’s not that the story is bad . . . necessarily. Rebecca Gilman’s script has, in fact, great potential and been recognized as such in the past with a Pulitzer nomination. On paper the dialog is compelling, but portions of this production do it so little justice and are so clunky that they interfere too much with the flow, pulling us away from the main thrust of the story: a tale of serial rape and murder set in rural Alabama in the late 1970s that mirrors Oliver Stone’s 1994 classic slaughter-rama, Natural Born Killers.
Disenchanted teenaged waif Lisa (Hannah Sloat) is seduced out of boredom and desperation to leave her whoring mother and run off with (initially unbeknownst to her) brutal twenty-five year old Clint (Hardy Pinnell). When the honeymoon ends and the 16 year old has given birth to twins, bored Clint begins looking for distractions in the form of stranger abduction, rape and murder. The pair seem like potentially engaging characters, but come off here as somewhat dry. While Lisa is understandably disconnected, Sloat shows very little range of emotion and her lifeless character doesn’t elicit the sympathy she ought. Pinnell, at least, makes us understand what Lisa might see in his Clint. He is a cunning, quiet and controlling beast, subject to cobra-like outbursts that cow Lisa into submission. But when Lisa’s guilt prompts her into confession, the telephone calls to police don’t seem prompted as much by personal evolution as by random impulse; and her deadpan, soulless interactions with interrogators and her attorney give us no hints about who she really is.
The arresting officers fare no better. Dressed and behaving like cops out of a poorly executed 1970s cop drama parody (which makes no sense in this context), they slow the production down and allow us to lose sight of Lisa’s coming to terms with the disaster that her life has become. Only Richard Hutzler as her court appointed attorney, Carl, can breath some life back into the drama as the only adult who sees through the horror of her crimes to the tragedy of her life.
When it was written in 1998, The Glory of Living was certainly relatively fresh. Nowadays, however, there are numerous cable television channels dedicated to countless stories just like these. True crime has always been popular, to be sure, but ones that stand out now are those which examine the psyches of the killers themselves. The Glory of Living has the potential to be produced that way, but alas, this version was not.
The Glory of Living. Directed by Ashley Kelly Tata – Thursdays through Sundays until August 18, at The Access Theater Black Box, 380 Broadway, 4th Floor.www.thegloryofliving.tumblr.com