by Ed Malin · August 28, 2015
1970s exploitation films can be dramatic. So when I heard about Kill Sister, Kill!, a stage musical homage to the age of badass female avengers, I was intrigued. The “sister” is a nun in a dirty city who has a knife inside of her crucifix. Do you see that every day? ‘Cause I don’t. Two Canadian brothers, Drac and Jamieson Child, wrote the book. David Backshell wrote the lyrics. Michael Zahorak, leading a band which also includes Zac Selisson, Tim Basom, Enrique Mancia and Greg Germann, is responsible for the original score, musical direction and lyrical arrangements. Jamieson Child directs. It all happens on the stage of Theatre 80, which has hosted many gritty and priceless performers since the days of Prohibition.
Lily (Samantha Walker) is a nun who dwells among the broken-spirited. In her city, there are junkies and hustlers everywhere. (Song: “Fuck This City”) The Priest in her church has just hung himself next to the altar, but at least the children are now safe from that particular Priest. What could make Lily feel better? Her own sister, the feisty, short-skirted, big afro-ed Kitty (Astrid Atherly) has come to town to celebrate her upcoming [next in sequence] wedding. Kitty, who makes money off her body, seems to know a lot of the cool cats in show business. She name-drops Burt Reynolds, yet is about to move in to a trailer community with a new husband who has a glass eye (and keeps Tic Tacs in it). Points for 70s chic! Kitty persuades Lily to come out so they can drink their way through the weekend together. (Song: “Leave The Habit At Home” In the neighborhood leather bar, where the characters come together, the unsavory, drug-dealing, facial hair pioneer “Dagger” (Aaron Williams) takes his aggression out on his babyface brother Ronnie (Thomas Finn) as well as on anyone for whom he lusts. Ronnie is almost getting somewhere with ingénue bartender Teresa (Heather Motut), and offers to buy Lily a drink, but he just can’t stand up to Dagger. It is only when the brothers and sisters meet again in the street that Dagger’s ferocious side becomes deleterious. (Song: "Good Evening Bitches") Sadly, albeit histrionically, Dagger murders Kitty and leaves Lily for dead. And thus is the character development in Act II fertilized.
For, while Ronnie takes over Dagger’s drug dealing, local addicts like Kourtney (Felicity Adams-Hannigan) and Mooky (Robert Iannuziello) think Ronnie’s the best. But, can it be true that a dark, snood-wearing figure is attacking criminals at night? (Song: Hellbent Nun) Ronnie reveals to Teresa that he has been socking away money from the family business, and urges her to run away with him before Dagger is out on parole. Oh no, Dagger has just gotten out and headed straight to the bar! You’ll have to see the show to truly experience the showdown, one that brings exploitation, sexploitation and sisterly virtue together just like they used to do on the screen.
There is a lot to like in the plot and gratuitous violence of Kill Sister, Kill! If you’ve seem “Coffy”, “Shaft” “Dolomite” or “Spartacus”, you know that things have to get really, horribly bad to justify the retaliation and, hopefully, the scum-exterminating payoff. And so it is that any violence you could imagine being perpetrated on women, queers and other punching bags of the era happens in this show. Just to point out the intricate balance, though: there are seven actors singing their hearts out, versus five electrified musicians, including two guitarists. Sit close, then, to see and hear what humans are capable of. With her music and her desire for swift societal change, does Lily have the moves like Hildegard von Bingen? Is Ronnie finally becoming a man? Is it ever too late to clean up?