Monday, May 03, 2010

Crimes of the Heart

‘CRIMES OF THE HEART’--southern angst on display at Actors’ Summit

‘CRIMES OF THE HEART,’ Beth Henley’s play which is now in production at Actors’ Summit, can be classified, along with the works of such writers as Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, as "Southern Gothic.'' Writers from this genre look compassionately at “good ole’ southern country folk” whose lives have gone off course. Some might classify the writing as “chick flick- southern,” plays that contain excessive piles of tragedy and turn on the sympathy taps of women viewers.
At the core of Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama are the three Magrath sisters. Meg, Babe, and Lenny reunite at Old Granddaddy's home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi after Babe shoots her husband. Obviously the products of a dysfunctional family in which the mother committed suicide, there is a great deal of acting out. As often is the case in stories of this sort, each sister is eventually forced to face the consequences of the "crimes of the heart" that she has committed.

There is lots of angst. Grandaddy is near death in the hospital, Lenny’s horse died after being hit by lightning, Babe’s abusive husband is in the hospital as result of her shooting him because “she didn’t like the way he looks,” the family cat was hung when mamma committed suicide, the lawyer hired to defend Babe has a personal vendetta against her husband, Babe is having an affair, and Meg’s old boyfriend still appears to have the hots for her. And, it goes on and on. Yep, Southern Gothic.

The script was named co-winner of the Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979. In 1981, the show opened on Broadway and ran for 535 performances. A 1986 film adaptation starred Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard.
The time is 1974, this is the South, where social standing in the community is paramount, family gossip runs rampant, prejudice is at its peak and the conflict between actions and reality are not always the same. The Magrath sisters are perfect examples of the women of that era and area. They are isolated from one another and, even when they are well meaning, are incapable of constructive action. This is enforced by their overbearing cousin Chick, who sticks her smug attitudes constantly into the sisters’ lives, causing as much additional conflict as possible.

Actors’ Summit’s production, under the direction of MaryJo Alexander, is quite acceptable. The characterizations, in general, are not probed deeply, but deeply enough to make each person credible. Accents come and go. Overacting emerges and wanes. As evidenced by the appreciative sold-out house on the first Sunday performance of opening week, there is enough fidelity to Henley’s intent to please the mostly older attendees who frequent the theatre for this type of production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘CRIMES OF THE HEART’ will appeal to those who like a southern tragedy, in its most angst-filled form. And, depending on your point of view, it will provoke laughter, sighs or rolling eyes.