Arts and Entertainment

Dark humor takes the stage in Issaquah

'Crimes of the Heart' director Kathryn Van Meter
— image credit: Ryan Murray

Hazlehurst, Mississippi is home to blues singers, pitchers of sweet tea and the troubled Magrath sisters.

The latter are reuniting at their grandfather’s house for the first time in years. But one has a dark secret the other two will have to help her deal with.

This is the setting of playwright Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart,” a Southern Gothic tragicomedy play staging at Village Theatre in Issaquah. The show opened Jan. 21 and runs through to Feb. 28.

Under the guidance of freshman director Kathryn Van Meter, the Magrath sisters (Babe, Meg and Lenny) will pool their brainpower and knack for getting out of sticky situations to help impulsive and passionate Babe (played by Sydney Andrews) avoid life in prison.

Why? Because she’s shot her husband, of course.

Depressed, shy Lenny (Rhonda J. Soikowski) and boisterous, cocky Meg (Brenda Joyner) join their troubled sister, out on bail, back at their grandparents’ home where they shared many a complicated childhood summer day.

“It is a dark comedy,” said Van Meter, a frequent actor and choreographer for Village. “One of the challenges of directing a play like this is finding the balance of the darkness and the humor.”

Van Meter said placing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances is what facilitates real change, and in “Crimes” we see six people placed in just such a position over the course of 24 hours.

“I think it’s the way humans change in any meaningful way,” she said.

The entirety of the play takes place in their grandmother’s kitchen, which allows for interesting blocking arrangements for the characters, including a window which breaks the fourth wall with the audience.

Using a single set for the play was a stylistic choice and Van Meter felt the kitchen was a natural fit.

“The kitchen is the heart of the home,” Van Meter said. “It’s where secrets come out. At every party people will end up in the kitchen and that’s where the conversation happens.”

So it is with “Crimes,” where the Magrath sisters, annoying cousin Chick Boyle (Angela DiMarco), flawed southern gentleman Doc Porter (Orion Bradshaw) and Babe’s lawyer Barnette Lloyd (Robert Bergin) go through the ins and outs of love lost, careers derailed and family (including pets) coming to a gruesome end.

Beth Henley’s play premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1979, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. A film adaptation starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek hit the box office in late 1986.

Van Meter said her own southern background helped her direct the play, which is steeped in the tradition of the South. She lived in New Orleans for several years and has family in Atlanta, providing her a little bit of background on the Southern Gothic genre.

“Henley sets all her plays in the South,” Van Meter said. “I think there is an attraction to the heightened, genteel language. This has been one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on.”

She is the first local female solo director at Village Theatre’s Mainstage in more than 15 years. She previously co-directed “Mary Poppins” and “Les Misérables” alongside Steve Tomkins.

Tickets can be purchased here.

Showtimes run at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and select Tuesdays, 8 p.m. on Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. All performances are in the Francis Gaudette Theatre at 303 Front Street North in Issaquah. The play will move to Everett from March 4 to March 27.


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