It was hard not to root for the three Magrath sisters of Hazlehurst, Miss., whatever their foibles, in the Oklahoma City Theatre Company's staging of “Crimes of the Heart.”
Walking a tightrope between tragedy and comedy that threatened to turn into a noose, this production of Beth Henley's play was just quirky enough to make its potentially grim material seem palatable.
Valerie Compton was poignant and served as a catalyst from the outset as the oldest sister, Lenny, repeatedly blowing out one candle on one cookie to celebrate her 30th birthday, ignored, for the most part, by other people.
This made it particularly satisfying to see Compton's character finally discover self-empowerment, renewing contact with her only boyfriend, and blowing out all 30 candles that she first found “frightening” on a birthday cake that's a day late.
More ironic, but equally touching was the situation of the youngest and most conventionally successful sister, Babe, who has created the family crisis by shooting her rich but abusive husband in the stomach, then offering him lemonade!
Pacing herself well, Keila Lorenc brought an understated, throwaway, “no big deal” intensity to the part of Babe, which made the audience at least understand and empathize with her actions, however, apparently outrageous.
Handled with aplomb by Lorenc, these included not only describing how she shot her husband and had an affair with a teenager (although she wasn't a “liberal”), but a comically botched attempt to hang herself, like her mother.
Bringing the larger, more glamorous world of Hollywood and its frustrations into this Mississippi emotional hothouse was middle sister Meg, played with the right amount of chastened panache and moody volatility by Michele Fields.
Fields made a good theatrical “loose cannon,” spinning tall tales for her grandfather's benefit about her on-hold singing career, and briefly taking up again with a married man whose plan to become a doctor she — and a hurricane — earlier sidetracked.
J. Collin Spring got across the “once burned, twice shy” willingness of the man in question, ironically nicknamed “Doc,” to at least go on a romantic nocturnal truck drive with Meg, if not renew their affair.
Kyle Reed offered a sympathetic, straightforward portrayal of Barnette, a handsome and astute young lawyer who gives up his “vendetta” against her husband to save his client, Babe, whom he bought a pound cake from at a charity bazaar.
Adding to the humorous equation, and especially to the play's Southern “busybody” factor, was Peggy Free, who did a good job of being comically annoying, in her part as the meddling cousin the sisters call “Chick the Stick.”
Dated in some ways, but perhaps benefiting from younger people's nostalgia for such curiosities as an old-fashioned dial telephone, the production, directed by Rachel Irick, made it clear why the offbeat but endearing play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
It is recommended during the rest of its run in the Civic Center Music Hall's intimate basement theater space, which makes it easy to relate to the three sisters, as they eventually rebond as a family.
— John Brandenburg
‘Crimes of the Heart'