When you think of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart may not be the first work that springs to mind. The quirky dark comedy about the three Magrath sisters of Hazlehurst, Mississippi lacks the grand importance of works that usually reap such prestigious awards. Yet the charms and depth of the play are amply displayed in the pleasing new staging by Firebelly Productions.
Lenny Magrath (Shelby Sours) is having one awful day. Her grandfather is in the hospital, her horse has died, and she’s alone celebrating her 30th birthday, which puts her on the verge of spinsterhood. On top of it all, her youngest sister Babe (Sonia Justl) is in jail after shooting her husband because she “didn’t like his looks.” This crisis causes the sisters to rally together, including Meg (Melissa Graves) who took off for California five years earlier to pursue a singing career.
Director Patricia Foreman does a fine job of helping focus on the three sisters’ distinctively dysfunctional personalities. The first act builds a little slowly, but as the characters are established, the humor flows more naturally. The three actors have a nice rapport with each other that especially pays off in the final act. The play’s message, that we all have bad days but with the help of family we can work through them, works without being preachy.
Shelby Sours provides a realistic core for the family and the story. She demonstrates a fine ability to modulate her emotions as skillfully as she handles the inflections of her southern accent. Sonia Justl shines in her portrayal of the lovably loopy Babe, the most difficult acting challenge in the play. She maintains a warm energy and a childlike charm throughout the show. While Melissa Graves has some nice comic moments as Meg, she has a harder time exposing the complexities of her character.
The supporting cast also turn in fine performances. Genevieve James gives a lively performance as the adorably annoying cousin Chick, the family’s busybody. Johnathan Lee Taylor, who portrays Babe’s lawyer Barnette, is touchingly earnest and totally convincing. Mark Ludwick skillfully portrays the longing of Doc, the former beau who Meg abandoned.
The care taken with the staging of this production is demonstrated with Noel Greer’s fine set – an authentic and detailed period kitchen, a place where southern ladies have traditionally confronted life’s emotional challenges.
Crimes of the Heart is an amiable and idiosyncratic odyssey into the lives of these three sisters. In the hands of Firebelly Productions, the trip is an appealing experience.
All photos by Ray Gniewek
Crimes of the Heart
By Beth Henley
Directed by Patricia Foreman
Produced by Firebelly Productions
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
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