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Early Gay Liberation Movement at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 1971-1978
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The Killing of Sister George

Protest Thought Provoking Play, January, 1974:

Sister George Article

Protest 'thought provoking' play

Two dramas unfolded in Curtiss Hall Wednesday night, one fictional and one real. Both were about lesbianism.

The fictional drama was "The Killing of Sister George," an ISU Theater production which will continue through Saturday. More about that later. The real drama was a protest by the Lesbian Alliance and the Gay Peoples Liberation Alliance of Ames.

Censorship was not the intent of the protestors, about eight in number, who quietly distributed fliers as the audience members trickled in.

"We don't want to stop the play. We just want people to know that the lesbian relationship portrayed in this play is atypical. That's all," said Dennis Brumm of the Gay Peoples Liberation Alliance.

A lesbian woman, who preferred not to be identified because it could jeopardize her job, said she wondered why the theater department would not "produce a play about happy lesbians." She pointed out that the characters in the play are "sado-masochistic, sick and sad."

Director Sherry Hoopes said several Ames gay people have evidenced intense concern with the production since Christmas vacation, when the cast was midway into rehearsal.

"I can understand their interest. But it's just fiction. The only other play I can think of on the subject is 'Children's Hour,' and that results in the suicide of one of the main characters," Hoopes said.

The director added that she and some of the cast members had met with Ames lesbians on as many as four or five occasions since Christmas.

I'm sympathetic. But this is the play we're doing. I'm not one of them. What can I say" Hoopes Asked.

Perhaps more interesting than the play itself was the tension between the theater staff and actresses on the one hand and local homosexuals and lesbians on the other, with both sides justifiably exercising freedom of expression.

Audience reaction, ranging from groans, nervous laughter, fascination and genuine amusement was interesting as well. At least one couple got up and left.

Neither the current production of the Killing of Sister George nor the play itself, by Frank Marcus, are of overwhelming artistic value. But the fact that it will make you confront your own feelings on and important moral issue is worth the price of the ticket.

The play itself is touted as an adult comedy. Adult it is, but the second part of the label is misleading unless you find emotional cripples amusing.

At one point, the main character, a middle-aged soap opera actress about to lose her job as the radio character Sister George, releases her frustration by forcing her lover Childie to eat her cigar butt. Later she demands that Childie kiss the hem of her bathrobe and drink her bath water. If that's funny, it's very black humor indeed.

Kate Gibbs portrays George, the "male" counterpart of the lesbian relationship. Gibbs is appropriately brash and aggressive in the scenes which require her to be cruel or funny at someone else's expense. She is less effective at showing the character's misery.

In one scene where George reminisces tenderly about the beginning of her affair with Childie, Gibbs' tone of voice is so hollow one almost suspects she is obliquely telling the audience she's really not that way.

Jane Waterbury also seems distant from her character, Childie. If you close your eyes, she is convincing. But on stage both physically and psychically, Waterbury is too much of a presence to project the wispiness, vulnerability and childishness that the part requires.

She is best in scenes where she is gay and flirtatious, particularly in one where she and George dress as Laurel and Hardy for a costume party. When she is to appear crushed by George's cruelty, however, Waterbury is just too strong a woman to carry it off.

Perhaps the most convincing actress was Kathy Jul as Mrs. Mercy Croft, a bitch from the British Broadcasting Company who gives George the axe on her job. Jul hits a perfect combination of excessive sympathy to Childie and sugar-coated malice to George.

The only other character in the play is Madame Xenia, a fortune teller who lives near George and Childie, and appears periodically for no apparent reason. She is a caricature of an eccentric more than an eccentric character, and Twila Ehmke is unable to make her come to life.

The audience is unable to involve itself in the production, partly because of the playwright. Marcus seems more intrigued with his creations than involved with them. We are shown unhappy people, but we are not shown what made them that way or why they deserve to be otherwise. For that reason "The Killing of Sister George," sheds little light on lesbianism or on the human condition in general.

Despite this failure to evoke compassion, which is the playwright's fault as much as the cast's, Mrs. Hoopes and the actresses are to be commended for their willingness to tackle a delicate subject seriously.

Even if they don't make you care about the characters, they will make you consider the subject. The thought the play provokes may be more to the advantage of Ames gay people than the limitations of the script lead them to believe.

-- Becky Christian


Why is it controversial plays about gay or lesbian characters are never about "homosexuality" or the "homosexual lifestyle" but always about the "human" condition?

Why would someone directing a play bother to say that it was "just fiction"? Can't fiction do damage? Consider the Bible, for instance! Hoopes feels obliged to mention she "is not one of them." Yes, what can she say?

Nope, she was not one of them there lesbians….

How quaint.

Things have changed for the better in the arts. I watched the 1968 film of this play once in the last several years. It's very much a product of its time, probably worth one viewing. Almost all of the characters, gay or straight, are really fairly pitiful.

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