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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

The Glory of Living

Rebecca Gilman

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To purchase The Glory of Living

Title: The Glory of Living
Author: Rebecca Gilman
Genre: Drama
Written: 1998
Length: 83 pages
Availability: The Glory of Living - US
The Glory of Living - UK
The Glory of Living - Canada
  • First performed at the Circle Theatre in Forest Park, Illinois; the production won the Joseph Jefferson Citation for Best Play in Chicago and the American Theatre Critics Association's Osborn Award for the Best New American Play
  • First performed in London 14 January 1999, in a production directed by Kathryn Hunter and starring Monica Dolan as Lisa
  • First performed in New York 30 October 2001, in a production directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starring Anna Paquin as Lisa

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Our Assessment:

B+ : stark, affecting character portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A+ 19/1/1999 Michael Billington
New York . 3/12/2001 John Simon
The NY Times . 16/11/2001 Ben Brantley
The Village Voice . 27/11/2001 Charles McNulty

  From the Reviews:
  • "What can one say? Except that plays don't come much tougher, or more compassionate, than 33-year-old American Rebecca Gilman's The Glory Of Living (.....) It's a viscerally powerful piece (...) Gilman's real theme in this powerfully unnerving play is the desolation of her native soil." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "That Rebecca Gilman's characters in The Glory of Living are both risible and reprehensible, but not patronized or caricatured, is in itself an accomplishment. (...) (A) modest play whose seamy and savage goings-on will not be to everybody's taste." - John Simon, New York

  • "Welcome to Badlands II, where another young couple leave a trail of corpses in their erotic wake. Glory offers the same blank-eyed, nonjudgmental stare as Terrence Malick's film. Though Gilman's low-rent details can be damning, she never inflicts them." - Charles McNulty, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Glory of Living comes with a disclaimer that isn't seen that often in plays (though most American novels now carry it):

All persons and events depicted in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to real events or persons is strictly coincidental.
       One understands the need for these words: the persons and events depicted in The Glory of Living are all entirely too believable, the story sounding like an all-too familiar one from the American heart- and wasteland. (Michael Billington's review says it actually is "based on a true story"; in fact, it sounds like it could be based on any number of true stories.)
       The play is set in the deep American South, in rural Tennessee and Georgia and Alabama, in trailer-trash territory. The first scene even takes place in a "small mobile home", where fifteen year-old Lisa brings two men over. Mama's sleeping behind a curtain, but pretty soon she and one of the fellows get down to business. (As Clint, the one who is more interested in Lisa, tells the girl later -- as if there had been much doubt -- : "your mama is a drunk whore").
       Lisa is used to her mother's activities -- even though mom's "a screamer". She and Clint watch TV and talk while the other two go at it. Clint is a petty criminal who has already served some jailtime for stealing cars. He's also a real charmer, and since he likes what he sees he charms Lisa right out of there.
       The next scene jumps a few years ahead. Clint and Lisa are still together, and in the meantime they've had kids -- a set of twins -- and gotten into more trouble with the law. The babies are with Clint's mother. Clint and Lisa are moving from motel room to motel room. And they have an unpleasant new scam: Lisa lures girls into her car and then brings them to Clint. And the girls wind up dead.
       Several of the victims are introduced: a girl whose domestic situation was miserable, one who is a bit slow. Lisa seems to feel a bit of guilt about what's going on, and she calls the police with anonymous tips. At the end of the first act, with Clint and Lisa entertaining yet another new and not quite willing guest, the police come knocking on the door.
       Clint and Lisa are arrested and interrogated. It turns out that Lisa did the killing. She makes it sound like Clint forced her too, but the force was never quite enough to be sufficiently convincing in the eyes of the law. Lisa looks guilty, Clint fairly innocent -- despite the best efforts of the police and Lisa's lawyer to pin something on him. Lisa gets the chair, Clint gets out of prison after serving a short stint.
       Lisa's lawyer tries to help her, and tries to have her tell her story in a way that would make her sympathetic to a jury -- but she's the exact opposite of charmer Clint. "You are not a convincing witness" her lawyer tells her. In fact, she's not convincing as a person -- because she's a stunted human, since she was never allowed to properly mature emotionally and socially. As her lawyer sums it up: "You smile at all the wrong times."
       Lisa is a remarkable shell of a human being. Clint recognized it from the beginning -- and that's probably why he latched onto her: "You don't know what normal is."
       Lisa isn't evil, and she clearly feels some remorse at what she's been involved in, but the only figure who has ever showed any interest in her (until the lawyer comes into the picture) is Clint, and Clint is a bad, bad man, using her to his own ends. Because no one else cared or helped until the very end she's condemned to her sad fate.
       Lisa is not ill-equipped, she's completely unequipped to function in society, betrayed by her absent father and whore mother. Gilman drives the point home in the play's conclusion, where Lisa meets with her lawyer, clutching her one prize possession, the toy piano her father gave her -- which she now wants to give to her lawyer. She can't even play it:
CARL: Anybody can play that.
LISA: Not me.
CARL: Really ?
LISA: Daddy just give it to me. He didn't show me how it worked.
       Which sums up Lisa's entire life: nobody ever showed her how anything -- even the simplest things (it's not even a real piano, it's a toy piano) -- worked, and the only one willing to show her anything -- Clint -- showed her all the wrong things.

       Focussing entirely on Lisa -- she's in every scene save one -- The Glory of Living is an impressive character portrait. Lisa doesn't ask for sympathy, love, or understanding, she simply is. Her story is tragic and largely believable; that of a lost soul ruined by circumstances.
       The play is occasionally a bit heavy on the melodrama, but overall Gilman handles the material well and presents it remarkably neutrally. A solid, poignant drama.

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The Glory of Living: Reviews: Rebecca Gilman: Other books by Rebecca Gilman under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       American playwright Rebecca Gilman has received numerous awards for her work.

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© 2003-2009 the complete review

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