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Getting Out
Theatre Review by T.H. McCulloh, Drama-Logue, December 3-9, 1981

The re-shock of reality which hits ex-convicts as they face the outside world has been dealt with countless times, but rarely with the view of the inner life of the convict as open as in Marsha Norman’s Getting Out. This is not so much a tale of how the outside world treats Arlene as it is a bitter poem on how she it willing to treat it. And a poem it is, with its shifting meter, its vers and chorus, its imagery and its simple approach to a very different subject. It is, however, not a pretty poem: its tone and its words are harsh.

Arlene/Arlie is not a nice girl, nor is she totally convinced of the value of her rehabilitation or even her own worth for that matter. These are two characters to be dealt with (her two sides are played by two actresses): Arlene, who faces the world anew in a despicable hovel in Louisville, Ky., and Arlie, the "hateful" side, whom she hoped to have exorcized in prison. Barbara Beckley is Arlene. She seems to have been Arlene forever, she breathes of greasy spoons and beer bars and a desperate longing for something better, saner. Beckley makes you believe there is a little bastard son named Joey somewhere for whom she must better herself. She also makes you understand Arlene’s weakness and her pliability when temptation shows her a more comfortable way. It is an extremely touching and moving performance by a gifted actress. As the other part of Arlene, Linda Stone’s Arlie is also an excellent performance, but it is more on the surface, and we find out little about what is going on inside the girl, making Arlie pale by comparison by Beckley’s Arlene. Arlie’s hatefulness is served up as childish tantrums rather than a bitter viciousness born of "misfortunate" roots and bad taste in her dreams. Stone uses physical techniques which make the hardened prisoner quite indistinguishable from the naughty schoolgirl and nasty child whom she also portrays and seems to have little connection with the creature out of whom Beckley’s Arlene could have been born. It is a good performance, just out of sync, needing a bit more control to bring out what is inside her character.

Getting Out is an auspicious directorial bow for Robert O’Reilly, who has not only staged the piece with style and clarity but has done a great deal to bring out the poetry of the action through his understanding of the aforementioned shifting meter and imagery. He builds a momentum in the development of Arlene/Arlie’s relationship which culminates beautifully at the final moment of the play in a shared private moment from the past. O’Reilly’s handling of his supporting cast is also remarkable in a new director: he uses them as instruments in an orchestra to create a reality which is rare in theatre.

Bennie, the guard who has quit his job and brought Arlene back to Louisville is played calmly, surely and with a great deal of insight by Jon M. Benson. He is able to balance his desire for his "wild animal" with a charm and an apparently real affection for her which leads one to think that perhaps he will be the one to lead Arlene in the right direction after all. Her temptation to return to her former life appears in the form of ex-boyfriend and pimp Carl, an escaped convict junky who wants to use Arlene as his meal ticket. Paul Eggington plays Carl a bit lightly for true effect, but is threatening enough to make the point and persuasive enough to make one fear Arlene’s decision. Her mother, a veritable epitome of southern white trash who has spawned a whole flock of Arlenes, is given a panoply of the tacky charms and vicious manners which are all a part of the stereotype by Dee Croxton; it is hard to believe that Beckley and Croxton are not mother and daughter in their scenes together. As Arlene’s upstairs neighbor. An ex-con herself, Kathryn Kates is a joy in her warmth and understanding of Arlene’s situation and her Ruby is obviously just the medicine Arlene needs. Also excellent in their own right in supporting roles are John Thomas Clark as the Warden; J. Downing, extra fine as both Guard Evans and Ronnie; Tom Schanley as Guard Caldwell; Alex Zonn as the Doctor; and Barbara Beaman as the Principal of Arlie’s school.

The set design is uncredited, but it has the right run-down, tacky look, and it is exquisitely painted with light through Rita Lilly’s design. It’s a short run and it’s a shame.
 
 

Copyright 1981 Drama-Logue
Reprinted with Permission
Getting Out at the Colony Theatre