Crimes of the Heart: Tragicomedy by Beth Henley. Directed by Patrick Nims. Ross Valley Players, Barn Theatre, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross, CA. 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visit www.RossValleyPlayers.com. July 12 – August 11, 2019.
Crimes of the Heart is dramedy at Ross Valley Players. Rating:
Ross Valleys Players (RVP) is a premier community theatre and they again demonstrate their quality with this production of Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize play Crimes of the Heart. They have gathered a superb cast and production team to stage this play that has origins in Chekov’s Three Sisters and is constructed in the genre of 1950-60’s kitchen sink drama. Although billed as a tragicomedy the term dramedy would be more apt. The dark southern gothic humor has laughable situations that should not, but do illicit laughs. To quote Frank Rich’s 1981 Broadway opening night review, “A comedy, you ask?”
The three sisters are eldest Lenny (Jensen Power), younger Meg (Chandler Parrott-Thomas) and youngest Babe( Magrath) Botrelle (Margaret Grace Hee) who have been forced to move back to their hometown of Hazlehurst , Mississippi living with their grandparents after a horrible incident that generated national news. Many years ago after their father split from home their mother hung herself and her cat. An incident such as that is fodder for the small town talk and the sisters are living in that milieu.
The action of the play takes place in and around the Magrath kitchen. The time is the fall of 1974, five years after Hurricane Camille that is cogent to the plot construction. No one has taken note that it is Lenny’s 30th birthday and in the brilliant opening scene defining character without dialog she is “celebrating” alone. For reasons we learn later in the play, she has stopped seeing a man she met at a lonely hearts club meeting. Another blow to Lenny’s psyche is the death of her horse struck by lightning.
The impulsive Babe has shot her abusive husband because she says, “I didn’t like his looks” and calmly made some lemonade before calling the doctor. She is out on bail before her impending trial. Meg is a somewhat talented singer who went off to Hollywood, ended up in a psyche ward and has returned by bus to stand by Babe during her trial. She lies to her dying grandfather about her non-existent theatrical successes.
Henley adds a fourth woman a cousin and neighbor Chick Boyle (Caitlin Strom-Martin) a meddling “take charge” type who is given some delicious stage actions to earn solid laughs early in the play only to return in a final scene in a vindictive mood.
The males in cast include Doc Porter (Michel Harris) now married with two children and a former lover of Meg. He was injured during the hurricane when he consented with Meg to weather the storm with her promise of marriage. He walks with a limp and had given up his desire to be a doctor when Meg disserted him. Barnette Lloyd (Jeremy Judge) a young lawyer with a crush on Babe who is going to defend her.
Henley is a master at adding layer upon layer of vignettes that create fully rounded individuals as the women relive their past through conversation and photo albums. She never allows the action to lag. As the plot thickens and individuals react to each other with cleverly revealed vignettes leading to an ending that erases some of the frailties of each of the sisters who bond together to face their uncertain future.
All the actors, with one exception create individual verisimilitude in their roles yet maintain a great ensemble effect. Jensen Powers under plays the difficult role of homebody Lenny and you feel her inner turmoil. Chandler Parrott-Thomas enters on a high note that continues throughout the play as the beautiful egocentric hard drinker would be famous singer without repentance. Margaret Grace-Hee as Babe is masterful as she slides from indifference to semi-insanity
Jeremy Judge as Babe’s (Call me Bessie) lawyer rules center stage with his three relatively brief entrance and exits and his scenes with ‘Bessie’ are brilliant and at the same time humorous giving the dark mood a much need lift. Michel Harris is out of his element as Doc Porter against the quality acting of the other cast members and he walks through the underwritten role.
The set by Ron Krempetz is a perfect middleclass kitchen with authentic props that certainly will earn a nomination by the Bay Area Critics Society.
Yet with all the accolades heaped on this production something seems missing. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause but the conjecture is that director Patrick Nims allows the pacing to be hectic probably due to the fact that it is a long two hours and 30 minute three act play folded into two acts. Yes, there is an intermission.
CAST: Michel Harris as Doc Porter; Margaret Hee as Babe Botrelle; Jeremy Judge as Barnette Lloyd; Chandler Parrott-Thomas as Meg Magrath; Jensen Power as Lenny Magrath; Caitlin Strom-Martin as Chick Boyle.
PRODUCTION TEAM: Director, Patrick Nims; Production Manager, Heather Shepardson; Stage Manager, Madge Grahn; Set Design, Ron Krempetz; Set Construction, Michael Walraven; Costume Design, Michael A. Berg; Hair and Wig Design, Miles Jessen-Smith; Assistant Director, Pennell Chapin; Assistant Stage Manager, Almendra Benvenuto; Scenic Artist, Dhyanis; Lighting Design, Harrison Moye; Sound Design, Rick Banghart; Properties Design, Maureen Scheuenstuhl; Graphic Design, Mark Shepard; Program Consultant, Suzie Hughes; Publicity, Karin Conn; Photography, Robin Jackson; Web Site, Andy Wilson.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com