Written by Patrick Chavis
Crimes of the Heart, now playing at STAGEStheatre, is a family drama set in Mississippi about three sisters getting through their daily lives the best they can after a criminal act one of them commits brings the sisters back together. While the set’s presentation and even a few of the performances stand out, the direction of this production misses the right tone for certain characters. It does not quite capitalize on opportunities for dark comedy, making the production less impactful and slightly confusing.
As I mentioned, Crimes of the Heart is about the McGrath sisters: Lenny, Babe, and Meg. It’s a Beth Henley play, and when it was released, it won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. All three sisters have issues, and we explore their complicated past as the sisters gossip about their lives in their grandfather’s kitchen.
The story is interesting because of the characters. Henley’s dialogue and conversations sound pretty authentic to the source (in my opinion, and I’m not an expert on a southern discussion). What’s more important than whether or not these women use the appropriate slang is that they are required to be interesting. For most of the story, you will be sitting and watching one (or all) of these women just talking. This makes for a very challenging piece of theater because most of what we learn is secondhand from their conversations in the kitchen. The audience must latch onto the performers to get the most out of the play. The story covers a lot: family dynamics, death, love, infidelity, and a racial aspect touched on as well. Henley does a great job of writing dialogue that stays true to the characters and lets the actors provide much of the message she’s trying to convey. There’s nothing forced here. It’s a story, and the message can be extrapolated after watching the entire show.
The set work was wonderful and did set the mood appropriately. It’s a well-put-together southern kitchen, and they use every piece of the stage at STAGEStheatre to bring you into their world.
Comedy is hard to pull off. It requires timing, and the actor or comedian needs to know how to sell the joke. This play has plenty of funny moments, but some actors missed opportunities to sell those jokes. Much of this production wasn’t as amusing as it could have been. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was just a straight drama. However, this play is supposed to be a dark comedy, and much of that was lost in the actors’ emotions.
It’s one of the smaller components, but I thought the relationship between the doctor (played by Jeremy Krasovic) and Meg (played by Erica Jackson) was a well-executed storyline. Jackson does a fantastic, spirited job with her character. It was always pretty clear what was going on with Meg’s character, and much of that has to do with Jackson’s acting. Tiffany Toner was also a good casting choice for the character of Lenny and gave a solid performance.
The play is full of exciting moments to be explored and enjoyed as you are brought into the kitchen of these fascinating characters.
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