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Crimes of the Heart


Beth Henley's 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winner, Crimes of the Heart, recently presented by Actors Theatre of New Orleans, is billed as a Southern Gothic farce. The protagonists are the three Magrath sisters from the small town of Hazelhurst, Miss. Lenny Magrath (Taryn Vinet) enters the kitchen of her grandfather's house, places a birthday candle on a cookie and sings "Happy birthday to me." Her celebration is interrupted by cousin Chick Boyle (Amanda Francis), who's upset because the newspapers are reporting that sister Babe Magrath (Greta Trosclair) shot her rich husband Zachary, who is recovering in the hospital. Babe is released on bail and refuses to say why she shot her spouse. Skeletons start falling out of the closet and it's revealed the sisters' mother hung herself after her husband left her.

  The third sister, Meg (Rachel de Jonge), arrives from California, where she's been trying to launch a singing career. She fled to California after a cataclysmic hurricane (changed to Katrina in this production), because she persuaded her lover Doc Porter (Jeffrey Ramirez) not to evacuate and he was severely injured during the storm.

  After considerable probing, Babe admits she's trying to protect a young black man with whom she had an affair. She hires a lawyer, Barnette Lloyd (Kyle Woods), who has a grudge against Zachary and wants to use the case as a way to ruin his political career. Zachary's sister was suspicious of Babe, however, and hired a private detective, who snapped revealing photos of Babe and her lover, compromising the defense and the budding romance between Babe and the lawyer.

  The drama is more comic soap opera than Gothic farce, and complications abound. It turns out that Zachary had come home unexpectedly and discovered the tryst. The highest (or lowest point) of farce comes when Babe despairs and contemplates killing herself like her mother did. Are we to take this as reality or goofy humor? We are somewhere between Tennessee Williams and the Marx Brothers.

  The cast, under Chelle Duke's direction, kept up a full head of steam. — Dalt Wonk

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