|Brenda Joyner, Sydney Andrews and Rhonda J. Soikowski in Crimes of the Heart (Mark Kitaoka)|
Crimes of the Heart
Issaquah: Through February 28, 2016
Everett: March 4-27, 2016
It’s easy to see why women actors love playing the characters in Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart. Strong actors are cast in the Village Theatre production, now on stage in Issaquah. The women get to have all kinds of emotion and demonstrate their familial bonds and struggles. Subject matter is a full plate of difficult situations, and most actors love to really dig in and chow down on a role.
The play is a slice of life in 1974 Mississippi, but it’s not “normal” life, by any means. Three sisters are in turmoil. Lennie (Rhonda J. Soikowski) has called Meg (Brenda Joyner) back from her failing music career in Los Angeles to tell her that their youngest sister, Babe (Sydney Andrews), has shot – but not killed – her lawyer husband, and has been arrested! Babe won’t say why she did it, except to say that she didn’t care for his looks.
We soon learn that there is far more to Babe’s story than that, as her young attorney (Robert Bergin) shows them Babe’s medical report, and a history of abuse that they didn’t know happened. We also learn that, in her somewhat desperate situation, Babe has made things worse by having an affair with an underage black teenager who she wants to protect from the legal situation.
We also learn that it’s Lennie’s 30th birthday, that everyone has forgotten, and more about Meg’s failures and challenges, and about Meg’s decision to leave an old beau, Doc (Orion Bradshaw), who is now married with two kids. Still, Babe’s predicament takes center stage.
The play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and was made into a movie in 1986 that starred powerhouses Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek. The movie was nominated for several Oscars, including for Adaptation, which Henley did, herself. But time is not terribly kind to this story. The abused spouse story would have been much more dynamic and edgy to theatergoers back then. The play reflected the fact that most women didn’t even talk to their sisters about such abuse.
Today, the idea that a woman is having an affair with a teenager, even a young woman of 24 and a teen of 15, would likely have audiences thinking the woman needs to go to jail for that. The racial aspect might still startle a bit, but that also does not stand out the way it might have in 1980.
The set by Andrea Bryn Bush is a functional old-timey rundown but charming kitchen of a farmhouse. It feels very much like the small town they’re in. The lighting by Tristan Roberson is warm and inviting. Costumes by Catherine Hunt are fun period pieces, particularly those worn by nasty cousin, Chick (Angela DiMarco), whose bouffant hair and biddy-body ways are a reminder of the play’s time and place.
One of the strongest reminders of the time and place is the dialogue from the lawyer, Barnette. He seems to violate all kinds of legal technicalities (like talking to the wounded husband without another lawyer present), but that may have been a time when some of those rules weren’t in place.
Either the play is losing its original message or the production does not succeed in bringing out the real unspoken drama that is present. If you like plays that reflect a time in the past and if you enjoy watching good women actors strut their stuff, there’s enough to please. The play is pleasant, even at 2 ½ hours long, and keeps your attention, since the characters are each a bit unusual, so you don’t quite know how they will act.