by Jennifer Benfield Johnson
Audience members at Magnolia Arts Center‘s opening night performance of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Crimes of the Heart, could be heard asking each other which of the main characters–sisters whose clashing personalities add tension and interest and create eventual unity–they relate to most.
In a charming bright yellow southern kitchen in 1974 Hazlehurst, Mississippi, you get the pleasure of listening in as the scandal and controversies of three sisters unfold like a picnic napkin.
Lenny Magrath, the eldest sister, is as meek as mouse but with the hidden potential to roar like a lioness. She is played by Erin Hildebrandt who shows wisdom beyond her years as an actress. A once-great singer who has lost her voice along the way, middle sister Meg Magrath, played by Stephanie Morell, is self-absorbed and adds comedic fodder and contrast to Lenny. Then there is impulsive and childlike Babe, the youngest sister, acted with likable ease by Amber Spencer. No one-dimensional character, Babe has an endearing innocence as well as the darkness that comes from her struggles with the bad hand that she was dealt in the game of hearts.
No play about sisters would be complete without conflict-instigators and love-interests. Chick Boyle, played by Sarah Ritchy, is the meddling cousin who doesn’t mind her beeswax and stirs the pot with her sharp tongue. Allen Andrews plays the dreamy Doc Porter, Meg’s old flame that still burns hot. Then there is the lawyer Barnette Lloyd, played by a talented Clinton Long, a white knight who comes to aid damsel-in-distress Babe.
Despite dysfunction and sibling rivalry, there is plenty of sugar in the lemonade. Even with a family at times cowardly and selfish, the sisters look past each other’s shortcomings and fight for the ones they love, gracefully working together as a family, through love and tolerance, to find strength in the darkest of times.
CORRECTION: Showtime on June 16 is at 7:30 p.m.
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