DIE LIKE A LADY, OR WHAT BARBARA GOT
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
Die Like a Lady, or What Barbara Got, the new film-noir-styled
play with music written and directed by Carolyn Raship, tells the story
of a wasted life. Barbara Graham, the piece’s subject, never got a break
in all the sad, sorry years she spent on this planet. As portrayed with
enormous sensitivity and compassion by the remarkable Maggie Cino, she
is a sorrowful and confused creature, living by her wits, and living for
the fleeting moments of connection that bring her momentary happiness.
August 15, 2002
Raship crosscuts between two different timelines to tell Barbara’s story. We meet her first in the electric chair, where she will be executed for the brutal murder of an old lady. From here, Barbara’s life is played out in flashback: from her wretched childhood (her mother, 15 years old when Barbara was born, was neglectful and abusive, and the girl eventually wound up in a reform school) to the pivotal moment when she met smalltime crook Emmett Perkins and her life entered its final downward spiral, culminating in the crime for which she would be put to death. Die Like a Lady careens through the events of Barbara’s life like an eight ball on a pool table: stints as prostitute, secretary, restaurant manageress, convicted perjurer, and death row inmate play out in the staccato rhythms of a Barbara Stanwyck movie, reflecting the hard-living, easy-loving, goodtime girl that Graham pretended to be.
A cast of four actors in addition to the indomitable Cino portray the literally dozens of supporting players in Barbara’s life. They’re an astonishing bunch: Abigail Bailey morphs from Barbara’s slatternly mother Hortense to a policewoman to Barbara’s second husband with effortless ease; Joanna Parson knocks us out as Barbara’s treacherous Marilyn Monroe-ish prison paramour Candy Pants; Christopher Yeatts handles assignments ranging from priest to sailor/john/mark to Barbara’s coke-addicted third husband, Henry Graham; and Justin Yorio sinks his teeth into smooth sleazy guys like boyfriend Emmett Perkins and Sam Sirianni, the man who was supposed to provide an alibi for that fateful night when Barbara consigned herself to the electric chair.
Somehow it’s harrowing and breezy and cynical and affecting all at the same time. As Cino, clad in Barbara’s signature red silk lounging pajamas, takes on all comers with unbridled moxie, the aching emptiness underneath is palpable. A sad account of the waste of something so precious—a life.