Everybody needs a sister. Whether by blood or a sister from another mister, we need someone who drives us crazy, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who criticizes us but will cut the first person who dares to insult her fellow sibling.
The Magrath family of Beth Henley’s sturdy drama, Crimes of the Heart, has sisters in spades. In Everyman Theatre’s effortlessly ingratiating production astutely directed by Susanna Gellert, the three McGrath sisters hang tight and loose as they navigate through a swamp of troubles so twisty and gothic (not to mention, funny) they make Flannery O’Connor seem like a minimalist.
The play opens with eldest sister Lenny (Beth Hylton) throwing herself a big ole pity party on her 30th birthday by blowing out candles on a cookie. Seems as though 30 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in the 1970s is the gateway to cronedom and Lenny with her shrunken ovary and all—one of Miss Henley’s deft touches is the knowledge that everyone in town knows everybody’s business and that includes Lenny’s fertility and the lingering scandal that their mother hanged herself and the cat because she was having “a bad day.”
However, Lenny has bigger issues than her lady parts. Old Granddaddy, who raised them, lays dying in the hospital. Her baby sister Babe (Dorea Schmidt) has been arrested for shooting her husband in the stomach—an act to which she freely admits because she “didn’t like his looks.” Middle child Meg (Megan Anderson) has come home from her aspiring show biz career in Los Angeles to offer support.
The reunion of the Magrath sisters is the centerpiece of Crimes of the Heart and in the old-timey kitchen (rendered with such familiar period detail by set designer Debra Booth you just want to pull up a chair to the Formica table and pour yourself a cup of coffee from the percolator on the stove) the women soon settle into their childhood patterns—Lenny fretting and old before her time, Meg wild and impulsive, and Babe the toddler who needs their protection. But the play veers off into all sorts of unpredictable directions, as we find out the real reason for the shooting—which involves a childhood friend Willie, of whom Lenny exclaims “My, he certainly has grown!” when peering at some incriminating photos—the reality of Meg’s life in L.A. and Lenny’s attempts to have a life that is about something other than duty.
One of the main pleasures of the production is watching the sisters interact—and consume piles of sugar. When the women aren’t downing bottles of Coca-Cola, they are making lemonade thick as mud with the sweet stuff, sampling Lenny’s birthday chocolates, cracking pecans and eating slabs of birthday cake for breakfast. In today’s low-carb, no sugar world, it is downright delicious to see such guilt-free eating and drinking.
Crimes of the Heart
Closes February 9, 2014
315 W. Fayette St
2 hours, 15 minutes with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $38 – $60
Tuesdays thru Sundays
(Some performances are sold out)
Details and Tickets
The trio are seamless in their bond—squabbling, talking over one another until their words slap up against each other like waves against a hull, bringing up old hurts and slights one minute and then hugging the next. Each in their own peculiar ways have rebelled against small-town ways and small town minds. Yet, in many ways, they are still fixed in place and fixed in time–tied to the “really bad day” their mother committed suicide.
All three actors beautifully delineated the differences between the sisters. Miss Hylton as Lenny first seems like a dowdy and retiring soul, until she starts to reveal the suppressed anger and resentments that have kept her in a half-life. Her careful awakening is a joy to behold. In contrast to Lenny’s introversion, Miss Anderson’s Meg is all stalking strides and explosive movement. Her Meg has the kind of energy that takes over a room and Miss Anderson portrays both the infectiousness of her character’s exuberance and its frantic, fragile flip-side.
As Babe, Miss Schmidt is a calf-eyed delight—so frank in her speech, so simple and forthright in her desires and impulses, you might mistake her as being a bit dim. However, Miss Schmidt shows that although petted and admired for her prettiness all through life, Babe has a will of iron and will always find a way to get what she wants.
In addition to the main roles, Katy Carkuff excels as the clan’s unctuous, flibbertigibbet cousin who resents and reviles the sisters for being “cheap Christmas trash.” And Danny Gavigan contributes smolder to a reunion scene between him and Meg where each are desperate to escape into a happier past.
Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley . Directed by Susanna Gellert . Featuring Megan Anderson, Katy Carkuff, Danny Gavigan, Beth Hylton, Dorea Schmidt and Jamie Smithson . Scenic design: Debra Booth . Lighting design: Jay A. Herzog, Costume design: LeVonne Lindsay . Sound design: Stowe Nelson . Wig design: Anne Nesmith . Dialects: Ashley Smith . Props: Jillian Matthews . Dramaturg: Naomi Greenberg-Slovin . Stage managers: Amanda M. Hall and Erin C. Patrick . Produced by Everyman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.