Review by Edmond Malin
Planet Connections Theatre Festivity continues to present plays that raise awareness about global issues. Rising Sun Performance Company presents “The Glory of Living” by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Akia.
The company notes in the program that, following an election season where women’s interests were disregarded, they decided to produce plays about the female voice, about voices that are stamped out, ignored or cast to the side. Indeed, Rebecca Gilman’s work teaches about female empowerment especially for those characters who never had a chance to grow up with control over their lives. Most of it is as shocking to the audience as it is par for the course for the protagonist. The production is in support of The National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Lisa (Sophie Gagnon) is a teenager who lives with her mother in a trailer in Alabama. Lisa has grown up waiting in the “other room” while her mother engages in the world’s oldest profession with random men. As our story opens, Lisa is chatting with Clint (John K. Hart), an older man who has accompanied his friend for a transaction with Lisa’s mother. From what transpires, you might think that Clint is appalled that the fifteen year-old girl has to live this way. But perhaps Clint has sensed an opportunity. In the next scene, Clint has been married to Lisa for two years. He has been to jail and back. She has been in foster homes and has had twins. Lisa and Clint seem happy, as long as she does exactly as he says. When a psychopath marries an abused child, it’s a bit more complicated than a dom-sub relationship. Lisa’s job is to lure even younger girls home with her to her hotel room so Clint can violently abuse them. At least that’s what is stated. When the police appear, we realize that Lisa has secretly turned herself and her husband in, and that many of the victims have been killed.
Lisa discusses her life with her court-appointed defender, Carl (Eric Parness). Lisa may see herself as a victim who dealt with other young girls who were “doomed anyway”. Who led her to this conclusion? Was it her mother, or Clint? During a conjugal visit with Clint, Lisa learns that their children have been placed in foster care. Also, Lisa has come clean about her role in killing the young girls; sometimes, she decided to do this without any compulsion from Clint. To our dismay, Clint is comparatively free to go out into the world and abuse more people, while Lisa is barely interested in appealing her sentence. Lisa has a toy piano, which she never learned to play. As Carl teaches Lisa to play “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, we see perhaps the first empowered moment of her life.
This is a powerfully gut-wrenching play presented with very little sentimentality. As the play progresses, the complexity of the characters deepens. What story really goes where this one does? “Native Son”? “The Bad Seed”? This is by far a darker tale, one which affords us the chance to survey the damage that comes from hopelessness. The play marked a turning point for Rebecca Gilman, and, even in a time when those in power seek to take away health care coverage from the most vulnerable in our society, she seems to be asking us why we have abandoned people like Lisa, her mother, and the other nameless girls. Jak Prince’s set design brings us into several modest locales in the Deep South, with an intriguing twist. The hangar-like Flamboyan theater has been divided into several areas so that we must evaluate each scene from a new viewpoint. Director Akia guides the brave cast through stereotype-busting portrayals of people who live in our country but somehow don’t live anywhere. Sophie Gagnon gives a great performance that would make any concerned parent cringe.