Monday, May 13, 2013
Theater review: Three sisters come to terms with betrayals in hysterical Crimes of the Heart
How easy is it to close one chapter and begin another?
MESQUITE Beth Henley, writer of Crimes of the Heart, writes primarily about women’s issues and family in the southern U.S. Her most famous play, and her first produced, is Crimes of the Heart, written in 1978. Upon completion she submitted it to several regional theaters without success. Crimes of the Heart was entered into the Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville by a friend, where it tied for first place and was performed in 1979 at the company’s annual festival of New American Plays. This was a fantastic start for Henley’s playwriting career, as the play was selected by numerous regional theaters for production that following season. The original show starred Lee Anne Fahey, Kathy Bates, and Susan Kingsley.
The play relates the stories of three sisters, Meg, Babe and Lenny, and the various troubles they face in their lives and how these troubles help bring them closer together. Babe has just been released from prison on bail. When Meg hears that her sister was in jail she hurries back to Hazlehurst, Miss. to be near her sisters, arriving the same day that Babe is released, which coincidentally is also Lenny’s 30th birthday.
As the sisters reunite at their grandfather’s house, trouble and comedy ensues. New facts are discovered about Meg’s singing career, Lenny finally begins making decisions for herself and secrets emerge about Babe and her marriage. The show combines all three story lines to create a thought-provoking and engaging play about these woman who are forced to deal with the consequences of the “crimes of the heart” each has committed.
Thrown into the mix are a meddling cousin oblivious to her rudeness, a lawyer smitten with his client and an old boyfriend seeking to rekindle romance. Each of these adds to the ugly predicaments that the sisters are thrown into and show their humanity.
The first thing I noticed on entering the black box theater at the Mesquite Arts Center is the amazingly detailed set, designed by Byron Holder. The set is divided into three parts, two of which are only used occasionally during the show. The kitchen area is where most of the action takes place. There is also a stairway that leads offstage to the bedroom area and a small living room area with a window seat where the sisters occasionally sit to talk. The use of the set was very effective in making the story seem real throughout, drawing the audience into the show, immersing them into the lives of the three sisters as they suffer through sadness, happiness and the desire to end their pain.
The props used throughout the show were very realistic, ranging from basic kitchen supplies to edibles. I appreciated the reality the props created throughout the performance and how the actors used them to make their characters more complete and believable. Everything onstage was used for either decoration or for more practical purposes such as the cot, the fridge where the drinks were stored and the oven which was used later on in the show. I felt as if I was a part of the show, like I was actually sitting in their home, watching as they went through the daily tasks of their lives.
The lighting, designed by Scott Davis, created an ambient atmosphere and fit perfectly in the context of the play. The lighting stayed in an even tone throughout the play, which is exactly what the show called for. It helped make the show more real and keep the audience engaged.
The sound, designed by Abel Casillas, was very well done -- realistic and clearly audible during the whole production, while maintaining good levels throughout. The sound of cars pulling up and the phone ringing worked well in the context of the play. The pre-show music also helped set the ambiance of the play and placed the audience in the context of the show.
All the actors in this production added to the imagery and world of the play. Laura Jennings created a very believable character in her performance of Lenny. She was the one that kept the sisters together, the voice of reason as far as she was able, while still dealing with her own troubles. Jennings was strong in her performance, bringing out Lenny’s many levels and creating a character that people could understand and believe.
Lindsay Hayward was great in her character of Meg, the sister that returns to visit her sisters on hearing of Babe’s predicament. She created a believable performance that showed the wayward child and how the choices she has made affected her and her family in her life. Hayward took the character and made it her own, showing Meg as both strong and caring, since she is willing to come running when her sister is in trouble.
Robin Clayton was the strongest of all the performers with her portrayal of Babe. The mannerisms she portrayed and the expressions she used made her very real and I could see how the character felt about all the things that were happening both on and off stage by the way Clayton played her. While she maintained her character, the seriousness with which she played Babe was a classic comedy.
Sheresa Tuggle, as Chick Boyle, portrayed the annoying cousin perfectly, showing a person that has extreme dislike towards the Magrath sisters. I felt the tension from the sisters whenever she was onstage, which rose when she made comments about the Magrath family.
Alex Krus, as Barnette Lloyd, was amazing in his role. I could see his anger towards Babe’s husband and the romantic interest towards Babe whenever he was onstage.
Chuck Barlow portrayed Doc Porter who is the former love interest of Meg. The choices he made were good, though at times he seemed to not be as engaged in the stage action as others. These actors all added to the overall image of the production, making the world more complete and believable.
The costumes were interesting to see. There seemed to be some discrepancy in them, making it difficult to know the play’s time period. Clothing ranged from the 1990s to modern day for Meg and Babe, while Lenny and Chick both looked to be in a 1960s outfit. Years aside, the costumes portrayed the characters well and showed their personalities.
The blocking was very clear and realistic, creating a complete story that felt and looked natural. The set, the character’s interactions and the choices the actors made were believable and helped keep the audience engaged while at the same time moving the plot forward.
It can be hard sometimes to get along with family and trust the decisions they make. I know this from personal experience with my siblings. No matter where you are in life, family is important as a support group; this we see in the relationship of the sisters. Trust in family can help resolve the troubles you may face, or at least make them more bearable. This play shows the effects that trust has on each of the sisters and how they are able to come to terms with their issues and overcome them, just as we all can overcome the issues we may have.
Byron Holder stated in his director’s note, “The cast has worked tirelessly and relentlessly to provide you with a top notch production.”
That hard work paid off and Mesquite Arts Center’s production of Crimes of the Heart created a style of Southern women and a place we here in this part of the country recognize very well. If you enjoy dark comedies, plot twists, and a play that engages you both intellectually and emotionally, I recommend Crimes of the Heart as a great way to pass an evening of theater.
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