by DICK KEREKES
The drama department of Jacksonville University presented a four performance run of Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize Winning play Crimes of the Heart, in the Studio Theatre on the JU’s Arlington Campus. This play has remained a very popular show since it debuted and is frequently performed all over the country.
It is the story of three southern sisters from Mississippi who are dealing with their hopes and troubles. Babe, is twenty four and is out of jail on bail for shooting her husband Senator Botrelle because she did not like his looks. Meg, age twenty seven, has come home from Los Angeles, where her career as a singer has fizzled and she is working as an order clerk at a dog food company. Lenny, the oldest is turning thirty and feels she will never find love because she has a deformed ovary and cannot have children.
Janae La Fleur was cheekie, chatty cousin Chick, who had three colored hair, and a wardrobe that defies description. She is the bombastic interloper who has no sympathies for the family problems when she says “I have had it my fill of you trashy MaGraths and you trashy ways; hanging your selves in the cellars, carrying on with married men and shooting your own husbands.”
Samuel Smid is Doc Porter, Meg’s former old flame who she left during Hurricane Camille, now married to someone else and living in another city but here for a visit. Smid plays him with a down-home charm that makes him irrestible once again to Meg.
Babe’s young love struck lawyer, is well portrayed by Nick Boucher, who looks and acts like a rich kid come home to make his name in Hazlehurst Mississippi. Mr. Boucher matched his over the top characterization of the Duke in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, with this performance.
Meredith Brown gave a wonderfully understated picture of a shy overwhelmed woman, who faces several crises starting with the death of her horse Bille Boy who is struck and killed by lightning, a sick grandfather in a coma, a sister who has shot her husband and a 30th birthday that few seem to notice.
Brooke West is Meg, the wild one in the family, who will tell a lie with a seductive smile more quickly than the truth, but has a sharp wit and seemed truly to have compassion for her sisters.
Michele McGovern as Babe has the face of innocence, as she relates the shooting of her husband and how she made lemonade before calling for the police or tells how she became involved sexually with a young black boy. Color her dim and naïve, but loveable.
I was impressed that all the actors were able to imbue their characters with emotional substance despite their sketchy and strange backgrounds. Director Deborah Jordon did an outstanding casting job, with each actor a perfect match for the roles they were called upon to play. All the actors were razor sharp with their line cues, and projected well.
I have a couple of costume books I consult from time to time, to see if the clothing selected is in the period of the play but I no longer do that with an Allison Steadman costumed production. Ms. Steadman who is always right on the mark and the l970s ladies attire had eye appeal and was interesting.
Matt Ward’s scenic and lighting design were on the money as well. The southern kitchen of l973 was picture perfect right down the avocado green appliances, which were in the vogue at that time.
I know Director Jordan would like me to give special mention and kudos to Props Master Cecilia Vega. (Props for theatre novices are all those things actors use or have to be on stage, like glasses, dishes, etc). This play apparently had a list of items 15 pages long, and all these items have to be in the right place at the right time for the play to flow, and they were and it did! Great job.
Playwright Beth Henley is alive and well and living in California, and still writing Southern Gothic plays, about one every 4 or 5 years but none been as successful as Crimes of the Heart or her other success, The Miss Firecracker Contest. Director Jordon emphasized the comic aspects of Crimes rather than the sad moments (plenty of those), and I liked that. It is always fun to laugh. Thanks for a fun two hours of well performed theatre.
CRIMES OF THE HEART theatre review
by DICK KEREKES