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The Glory of Living

Frank Scheck

MCC Theatre, New York Through Dec. 22

One essential problem with plays dealing with inarticulate characters is that their mindless blathering tends to wear thin very quickly. Such is the case in this work by acclaimed Chicago-based playwright Rebecca Gilman, whose previous plays (Spinning Into Butter, "Boy Gets Girl) are marked by intelligent dialogue revolving around provocative issues. The murderous trailer-trash characters in The Glory of Living, on the other hand, lack the ability to speak in complete sentences, and ultimately, the play becomes as bogged down as they are in their tragic, wasted lives.

Still, Glory manages to pack some punch thanks to its evocatively grungy atmosphere; credit must go to director Philip Seymour Hoffman and the central performance by Anna Paquin, an Oscar-winning child actress (1993's The Piano) who is grown up at age 19 and making her stage debut. While her character, Lisa, might not be able to express much, this gifted performer can still haunt with merely a glazed stare.

Lisa, when we first encounter her, is 15 and living with her hooker mother, who puts up a sheet to shield her daughter's eyes, but not her ears, from the commotion ensued by her servicing her clients. One john brings a friend, an ex-con named Clint (Jeffrey Donovan), who quickly takes an interest in the girl.

By the next scene, it is apparent that the two are married and that Lisa's chief function is to lure and then dispose of the bodies of the young women Clint rapes and then murders. When the normally cooperative Lisa suddenly feels a pang of sympathy for one such victim and impulsively calls the police, it lands her and Clint in jail on multiple murder charges. Her earnest but frustrated court-appointed lawyer (David Aaron Baker) attempts to help her.

Degradation, abuse and the loss of childhood innocence are the pervading elements of the play, which proves difficult to take as much for its obviousness (including the ironic title) as its bleakness. Although it ups the ante in terms of brutality as it goes along, the tenor becomes apparent from the first scene, and little that follows proves surprising.

Still, as staged powerfully by Hoffman, the production achieves a definite pungency, with Michelle Malavet's supremely tacky sets and the authentic performances adding to the effect. Donovan is very effective as the abusive Clint, well conveying his character's monstrousness but also revealing hints of vulnerability underneath. And Paquin, at times clutching a toy piano that serves as an unintentional reminder of her screen debut, combines childishness with sensuality to chilling effect.


Presented by the MCC Theatre

Playwright:Rebecca Gilman

Director:Philip Seymour Hoffman

Scenic designer:Michelle Malavet

Costume designer:Mimi O'Donnell

Lighting designer:James Vermeulen

Original music/sound designer:David Van Tieghem


Lisa:Anna Paquin

Clint:Jeffrey Donovan

Carl:David Aaron Baker

Jim/Policeman No. 1/Hugh/Guard:Myk Watford

Jeanette/Transcriber:Erika Rolfsrud

The Hollywood Reporter, November 29, 2001