Friday, August 2, 2013

'The Glory of Living': Access Theater Offers A Sharp Portrait of Society's Cast-Offs

They ain’t no Bonnie and Clyde, that’s for sure.

I’m talking about Lisa and Clint, the irredeemably lost souls and anti-heroes of Rebecca Gilman’s raw and edgy play from 2001, The Glory of Living, now in revival at the Access Theater. 

When we first encounter the pair, they are “meeting cute” in a sick sort of way. Clint has accompanied a buddy to the home that 15-year-old Lisa shares with her mother, a prostitute for whom “discretion” means hanging up a sheet to separate the living area from her bed. Clint and Lisa talk over the noise of sex, and before you know it Lisa has agreed to run off with him.

At first, given her lack of options, we are willing to consider that this might be an escape route for Lisa. Clint seems to be relatively stable, if you don’t think too much about his predilection for 8th grade girls. They actually marry and establish a home life of sorts, moving from one cheap motel to the next—a lifestyle funded by petty thievery for which Clint unfortunately spends time in and out of prison.  They even have children, a set of twins who are generally shuttled off to Clint’s mother, about whose own stability we can only speculate.   

Gradually, whatever hope we might have clung to for some sort of redemption evaporates, and we come to realize that that what we are dealing with is a pair of sociopaths for whom there is scant chance for anything resembling normalcy.  Clint uses Lisa to help him find other lost girls (runaways and the homeless), who are generally okay with trading sex for a can of soda or a ride somewhere.  Clint sexually assaults and then discards them by having Lisa take them out, shoot them, and dump their bodies.    

As you can tell, Ms. Gilman offers up a version of the outlaw story that completely obliterates any romanticized image of the kind that has been painted of real-life criminals like Bonnie and Clyde or Ma Barker and her boys.  Nor is there a satiric edge to the portrayal, such as someone like Sam Shepard might employ.  Instead, the playwright paints a portrait of lives stripped of empathy and meaning and hope.  There is more than a little irony at play when Clint says of Lisa, “you don’t know what normal is.” 

While the protagonists equally share the playwright’s focus during the first act, the spotlight shines almost exclusively on Lisa in Act II.  It is she who is tried for murder, and despite the best efforts of her court-appointed attorney, she is content to shrug it off, readily admitting her deeds without a trace of remorse or any consideration that she herself might have been a victim of a lifetime of abuse.    

It’s all rather sad. 

What Ms. Gilman has given us is a sense of the underbelly of life that is occupied by society’s outcasts, rejects, and damaged individuals, the ones that Judge Lisa Richette famously referred to more than 40 years ago as “the throwaway children.” 

The Glory of Living is a gutsy play for any company to tackle.  The production at Access Theater is a powerful one, well directed by Ashley Kelly Tata, and well acted by the entire cast.  Key to its success are the solid and disturbing performances of Hardy Pinnell as Clint, and, especially, Hannah Sloat as Lisa, a character who defies armchair analysis and who casually deflects sympathy. 

But, really, this is a labor of dedicated and sober intent for all involved.  Access Theater, like many other small, off-the-beaten-path Off-Off-Broadway companies, serves a valuable function of making sure that significant theatrical voices are heard.  You are not likely to see The Glory of Living at any Broadway or major Off Broadway house (despite its pedigree as a Pulitzer Prize finalist), so you owe it to yourself to make the effort to head downtown and climb those many stairs to the fourth floor of 380 Broadway to see this finely tuned production.

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