"When this play was first done, in the mid- 1960s in London and then New York, there was such shock value because there was a lesbian relationship," Kathleen Turner says. "We don't have that shock value now. That's all to the good, because it gives us a chance to delve deeper into the actual relationship, rather than just the fact of it."
Turner is talking about The Killing of Sister George, the 1964 British play by Frank Marcus, which she is starring in and directing at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, starting in late November.
She portrays the title character — or rather, she is June Buckridge, who plays Sister George, a kindhearted nurse on a BBC radio soap opera always coming to the aid of the English villagers of Applehurst. The "real" Buckridge, though, is a tough, cigar-wielding gin aficionado who lives with and dominates another woman.
Suddenly, as the radio show slides in popularity, its producers decide that this is the end of Sister George. British actress Beryl Reid was the original Buckridge in London and on Broadway, winning a 1967 Tony for Best Actress.
Turner says she was attracted to the part because even though Buckridge "is a rough woman," she is "ultimately probably the most naïve and the nicest, sweetest" of the play's characters. "I like characters that on the surface seem so bold and brassy and confident but are so awfully vulnerable inside."
Twice Tony-nominated, as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Oscar-nominated for "Peggy Sue Got Married," Turner says her interest in Sister George began a few years ago when she took on the role at a reading held by Manhattan's Roundabout Theatre Company.
"I was very caught up with [June]," she says, but she felt the play needed to be revised. She approached Marcus' estate, which agreed, and contacted playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who adapted the work in a way both she and the estate approved.
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