Some articles about Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Crimes of the Heart, call it tragi-comic. That is a mistake. The comic part is true enough—great hilarity pops up with delightful regularity—but the action doesn’t rise to level of Hamlet, say, with bodies strewn about the stage at the final curtain, or the grim visage of Oedipus with blood running down his face from the place where his eyes used to be. No, if the show must be categorized, call it seriocomic. International City Theatre’s new production, with its sterling cast of four women and two men, has grim situations, touching emotional moments, and giddy hilarity.
A period piece, Crimes of the Heart is set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, five years after the ravages of Hurricane Camille, one of the most savage storms ever to hit the Gulf Coast, stronger in intensity than Hurricane Katrina. Let’s call it the mid-1970s. The three Magrath sisters, in birth order, Lenny (Jennifer Cannon), Meg (Robin Long) and Babe (Megan Gainey), are members of a broken, dysfunctional family. Their father fled the home and their mother eventually hung herself in the basement. Old Granddaddy took them in and raised them, but at the time of the play, the girls are grown and Old Granddaddy is at death’s door in the hospital. At the top of the show, Lenny is an unhappy spinster distressed at turning thirty. Meg, with a vivacious personality and lying tongue, has been summoned home from Los Angeles, where she failed to make a living as a singer. And Babe is in jail after shooting her husband, a state legislator. Their cousin, Chick Boyle (Alexandra Wright), a snooty social climber who has distain for her relatives, tries to take charge of the family crisis, giving orders and making lists, but the Magrath sisters are not to be ruled.
Doc Porter (James Louis Wagner) was sweet on Meg until the two of them were caught in the hurricane when Meg refused to evacuate. The building they were in collapsed and Doc suffered a leg injury that still has him walking with a slight limp five years later. Now, married to a ”Yankee” and the father of two, he turns up at the Magrath house looking for Meg. Clearly, he still has feelings for her. Barnette Lloyd (Wallace Angus Bruce), the lawyer who sprung Babe from jail, is a shy guy who harbors some inchoate affection for his client from an encounter some years before. He is shyly touching and wistful in his feelings for Babe, whose thoughts are distracted by the prospect of a life of hard labor at Mississippi’s infamous Parchman Farm.
As played by the excellent trio of Ms. Cannon, Ms. Long and Ms. Gainey, the Magrath sisters are fascinating, troubled individuals, flawed certainly, but extraordinarily resilient. Seeing them whirl away from each other and finally coalesce, over the two hours traffic of the play, is utterly fascinating.
The production, under the smooth, fast-paced direction of Luke Yankee, benefits from the expert work of a fine creative staff, with set by Pete Hickok, lighting by Stacy McKenney, costumes by Kim DeShazo, sound by Dave Mickey, props by Patty and Gordon Briles, and hair and wigs by Anthony Gagliardi.
International City Theatre has a winner with the crowd-pleasing Crimes of the Heart, which runs through June 25 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.