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Southern Gothic

The Strand's cast makes an impressive effort with a disturbing script

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2010:09:30 19:39:55

R. Brett Rorher gets uncomfortably close to (from left) Mary Myers and Alexis Graves.

The Glory of Living

By Rebecca Gilman

Through Oct. 23 at the Strand Theater

In the first scene of The Glory of Living, 16-year-old Lisa (Mary Myers) watches TV with a thirtysomething ex-con (R. Brett Rohrer) while the girl’s prostitute mother (Mattie Rogers) has loud sex with a customer in the next room. When the mother’s moans and shrieks become especially forceful, young Lisa turns to her viewing partner, Clint, and says, “She’s a screamer.”

It’s this kind of perverse, exceptionally dry humor that makes watching The Glory of Living bearable. If not for playwright Rebecca Gilman’s carefully placed moments of comedic relief, her show would force even the most joyful playgoers—Betty White types, let’s say—to pop a Zoloft during intermission.

The award-winning writer’s play tells the story of a poor Southern girl trapped in a world of verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse. Lisa’s domineering husband, Clint, coerces her into capturing innocent teens: He assaults them and she disposes of their bodies. Although it sounds like a typical Saturday afternoon Lifetime movie, The Glory of Living differs in a few key ways from the average melodrama.

Gilman’s script steers clear of the predictable good-girl-versus-evil-guy plot at the heart of most Lifetime rape/murder dramas. Lisa may be the victim of abuse and manipulation, but her actions are remarkably sadistic. Instead of balancing rape scenes with visions of steamy, consensual sex, Gilman employs dark humor as a coping mechanism for characters and audience members alike.

The cast and crew at the Strand make an impressive effort to tackle the unnerving story. While over-acting peppered the production, most of the cast members gave authentic, engaging performances. Myers held her own as Lisa, her constant nail-biting, inability to make direct eye contact, and Crisco-greasy hair making for a convincing abused teen. Myers often had a haunted look in her eyes to go with her sickly-sweet, eager-to-please smile. But Chris Poverman, who played Lisa’s public defender, Carl, deserves the most attention.

While interviewing Lisa’s shooting victim, Poverman was both commanding and disinterested. Yet when Poverman spoke to Lisa, he displayed a kind of compassion not yet seen in the show. His subtle eyebrow movements and I’m-really-trying-to-understand-you sighs suggested genuine concern for Lisa’s well-being. Audience members had to ask themselves: If a public defender is making a sincere effort to get inside Lisa’s head, shouldn’t we? Poverman’s acting chops, more than any element of Gilman’s script, served to humanize Lisa.

The Glory of Living is the kick-off show in the Strand’s first season featuring only female playwrights. Playing a rapist/murderer in the theater’s estrogen-filled environment is certainly a challenge, but Rohrer made an admirable effort. While he was often over-the-top, he constantly invaded other people’s spaces, using an arm or a leg—or even a hand—to ensure that nobody forgot about him.

Clint’s bright orange Hummer shirt was just one of the spot-on costume choices throughout the show. The theater made other strong atmospheric choices too. The two-part stage, covered in red paint, was right in the middle of the two sections of seating. Audience members couldn’t avoid facing the story’s painful (and taboo) subject matter, a feature made stronger by the well-chosen musical interludes. From melancholy guitar tunes to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” director Jayme Kilburn made some clever and ironic picks. Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” summed up the show in a line during intermission: “Before the night is through/ I wanna do bad things with you.” ■

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