Rebecca Gilman’s “The Glory of Living,” directed by Eli Clark ’07, explores the oft-asked question of why people commit horrifying crimes while adding a new dimension to the discussion.

The play revolves around the life of Lisa (Claire Siebers ’07), the 15-year-old daughter of a prostitute, who runs away from home with Clint (Max Broude ’07), a car thief with an abusive personality. Lisa soon finds herself lost in a confusing maze of love, sex, abuse and murder. Following the life of this woman along the path to her demise, the fantastically dark comedy implores the audience to feel something more than simple pity or disgust, raising questions about the fairness of our justice system and the roots of evil.

The show’s set is admittedly spartan; a bed, table and chairs shift position to manifest a mobile home, motel rooms, a police station and prison cells. Rather than detract from the play, however, the stripped-down nature of the production focuses attention where it belongs: on the actors.

To their credit, these actors bear their burden well. Siebers plays an outstanding Lisa, reflecting the character’s pain and internal confusion so well in her face and body movements that her lines only dress the character, rather than forming her skeleton. Broude also allows himself to fully become his character, Clint. His intense focus and tempered movement perfectly convey Clint’s unstable nature and keep the audience captivated for every moment that he is on stage.

The other actors adopt the same concentration, resulting in a performance in which each character increases the story’s depth. The performers even manage to meet the play’s demand of Southern accents. Especially noteworthy are Tara Rodman ’07 as Carol, a mentally challenged victim, and Evan Joiner ’07 as Carl, Lisa’s lawyer.

This show’s subject matter could have lead it astray in any number of ways, erring either on the side of the overly melodramatic or completely missing the serious, deeper questions that the show poses. The cast walks this line masterfully, however, creating a performance that makes the audience laugh and empathize with the characters.

The venue for this production, the Ezra Stiles Little Theater, though small, works surprisingly well for this production. Audience members border three sides of the stage and sit only inches away from the actors, breaking down the physical separation that exists in most other theater spaces on campus. Proximity to the actors also adds an element of scopophilia and voyeurism — it feels wrong to be watching such intimate and tragic events in other people’s lives, yet we can’t look away.

The transitions between scenes in this show are especially well done. Less seasoned directors might have missed the opportunity to utilize these minutes. But Clark opts to sustain each scene’s momentum throughout the change. In the glow of soft blue light, actors perform the scene changes while remaining in character — maintaining the intensity and focus that permeates the show. The movement and the soft piano music which accompanies each transition prevent the audience from disengaging themselves and create a theater experience that is incredibly powerful.

What distinguishes this story from the multitude of similar tales is the extent to which it humanizes the offender. It is impossible to leave the theater without feeling conflicted about our justice system and the complex motivations that cause someone to commit a crime.

At the least, this show is wonderfully intriguing and entertaining. It fully engages the audience in a way that few shows on campus have and certainly should not be missed.

As the lights finally begin to fade to black, a palpable empathy flows from the audience as Carl speaks with Lisa. His line reflects the confusion of one who has no awareness of Lisa’s past, “I can’t even begin to understand you.”

In reply, Lisa shares a smile with the audience, “Yeah, but I appreciate that you try.”

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