THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE by Frank Marcus, directed by David Oiye, with Alex Dallas, Martha Cronyn, Katherine East and Kelly Bolt. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Tonight (June 26) at 8 pm. $10. 416-975-8555.
it's pride week, that time of year when Buddies in Bad Times reaches way back into the closet to pull out a play that presents queer life at a time when it was less in-your-face than it is today. The play of choice this time is The Killing Of Sister George, which starred Beryl Reid both onstage in 1965 and in the 1969 film. It was a first at the time - a mainstream hit about two women in an obvious emotional and sexual relationship.
While labels aren't used, there's nothing subtextual about how radio actor June Buckridge and Alice McNaught, nicknamed Childie, the younger woman who lives with her, interact with each other. And there's no mistaking what's going on in the triangle created by the addition of Mrs. Mercy Croft, the BBC producer who brings bad news for June - or Sister George, as she's known on her hit radio show - and has a more than passing interest in Alice.
It'll be a treat to see the magnetic Alex Dallas in the role of George, whose "death" in the serial gives the show its title. Dallas is best known for her 18 years with the feminist song-and-comedy trio Sensible Footwear, a group that didn't mind, as she puts it, taking the piss out of themselves.
More recently she's presented solo Fringe hits Goddess and Nymphomania, mined from her own life and amusing without resorting to jokes. She's toured Nymphomania to Los Angeles and is developing a TV show based on it.
I tell her I've never seen her in a straight play.
"And you won't here either," she guffaws, "but I just couldn't resist following in the footsteps of Beryl Reid, whom I adore. I want to become that kind of grand dame, who didn't start acting until she was in her 30s and then went on to do Restoration comedy and a BBC series, with some meaty dramatic bits in between."
Dallas has done scripted works, just not in Toronto. She's played a deep-voiced Sphinx in Steven Berkoff's Greek, essayed a dominatrix in a musical version of A Clockwork Orange and explored heavy emotions in Sarah Kane's Crave.
But people remember the entertaining, naturally funny Dallas for her work with Footwear. The group moved here from England in 1992 to play the Fringe circuit.
"We were the ones who invented the bring-your-own-venue," she recalls with a laugh. "In Edmonton we made people hold onto a string and walk with us for four blocks. Then we asked them for $5 and gave them a show. Most of them didn't realize they were going to see a performance at the end of the trip."
Dallas has some trepidation about playing George, who's jealous of Alice and her radio job because she's insecure about losing both.
"She's terrifying, completely dominating, and that doesn't come naturally to me. George is rather like the abusive dad you're too scared to come home to. By the end, though, she's quite sad. Somewhere between those two figures I'm finding something sympathetic in her."
Seeing the film in the early 70s brought Dallas her first awareness of what Sensible Footwear called lesbahamianism.
"It wasn't the kind of thing we discussed when I was growing up. I'm from Pinner, Middlesex, the home of Elton John and Simon Le Bon.
"Attitudes are so different now. My daughter Ruby came home from school when she was six and blithely announced that she was going to become a lesbian."
Ruby, who's now nine, grew up on the Fringe circuit and last summer appeared in Alison Lawrence's Going For Groceries. Unlike her mother, though, she doesn't want to grow up to be a performer.
"I asked her about that and she said, 'I'm bossed about at home and at school. Why would I want work as an actor and be bossed around some more?'"