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REVIEW: Magrath Family Values in 'Crimes of the Heart'

Brenda Joyner, Rhonda J. Soikowski and Sydney Andrews as Meg, Lenny and Babe in
Brenda Joyner, Rhonda J. Soikowski and Sydney Andrews as Meg, Lenny and Babe in 'Crimes of the Heart.'
— image credit: Mark Kitaoka

Family: They can rob you of your food, your youth or even the spotlight (especially if they become notorious husband-shooters). They can make you mad as hell. But family is also where the heart lays and you can never abandon your heart.

It’s the lesson that sits at the core of Village Theatre’s “Crimes of the Heart,” directed by Kathryn Van Meter. But it also speaks to the production itself, which stays true to the dual nature of sisterly love and rivalry, even as it assaults the audience with accents as thick as the Mississippi air in summer.

There are times when “Crimes” seems to want to smother you in its regional charm, like a faded Southern belle chanting “bless your heart” as she picks apart your outfit.

But charm works; that’s what makes it charming.

The story sees the three Magrath sisters reunite at their grandparents’ home in 1974 Hazlehurst, Mississippi, after the youngest, Babe (Sydney Andrews), has been released on bail in the shooting of her abusive husband.

At the opening of the show, Andrews plays Babe as the Stepford sister prim, perfect and always ready to fix a pitcher of sweet lemonade. By contrast, middle sister Meg (Brenda Joyner) plays the rebellious and spoiled wild child, while Lenny (Rhonda J. Soikowski) is the frazzled and self-denying elder, forced unexpectedly into the role of family matriarch after a stroke puts their grandfather in the hospital.

These early characterizations are highly archetypical, even two-dimensional. They’re thrown at the audience with such low subtlety and high bombast through the first hour that they threaten to persist through the next two.

But the first-time Village actresses bring depth to their characters with each twist and turn of Beth Henley’s stageplay.

Age plays a strong role in the progress of the sisters throughout the show and it’s only appropriate that the story opens on Lenny’s 30th birthday. Soikowski exhibits a premature “grandma mania” as she frets and worries over everyone but herself, an attitude that lightens only as she learns to slow down and feel her oats. Joyner takes the reverse path an obliviously selfish and immature hedonist who slowly learns to act her age.

As parts of the show’s B- and C-plots, Lenny’s and Meg’s arcs are nips and tucks compared to Andrews’ highly dynamic character journey. Each act sees Babe take another hit to her freedom and mental health, causing her to regress further and further away from eerily precocious and put-together housewife toward the part of defenseless and scared child.

These individual characters’ stories are satisfactorily compelling on their own, coaxing you into investing yourself in their outcomes. But it would be a mistake to expect them to pay dividends: None of the plot points neatly resolve themselves in a clear payoff. Instead, “Crimes” shows its strength in the way the Magrath sisters play off each other and grow as a family greater than its individual parts.

 

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