Crimes of the Heart at ICT

Theatre review

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Culture
From left: Robin Long (Meg), Jennifer Cannon (Lenny) and Megan Gainey (Babe) in International City Theatre’s Crimes of the Heart

Photo by Steven Georges

Crimes of the Heart, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Beth Henley, was originally produced in 1979. The current revival at International City Theatre, continuing through June 25, captures well the mid-1970s mood for a trio of sisters in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, as they cling together against their circumstances, especially one being accused of shooting her husband. With Southern charm and verbal velocity, the play offers a heartwarming portrait of three very different women somehow surviving what they can barely endure.
While the play contains two male characters, it’s the women who shine. Anchoring the sibling trio is careworn eldest sister Lenny (Jennifer Cannon), who lives in their grandfather’s home (the play is set in the home’s kitchen) and attends to him. Carefree middle sister Meg (Robin Long) visits from California, her singing career stymied, and sweet, innocent youngest sister Babe (an impressive Megan Gainey) soon joins them, released from jail after having just shot her husband. Cousin Chick Boyle (Alexandra Wright) adds to the feminine mix, casting a critical societal eye over her wayward Magrath cousins.
All the women excel in their parts, and it’s a delight to see them engaging in their varied roles with Southern-accented vigor. They speak and act intuitively and passionately, reacting to the constraint of being women from a small Southern town, heavily defined by the men in their lives (or lack thereof), including disapproving Old Granddaddy, Babe’s domineering husband and the loves Meg and Lenny had each let go. Hanging over the sisters is the cloud of their mother’s suicide years earlier (possibly because of her own circumscription) that they must still come to terms with.
The play’s two men, Meg’s old flame Doc Porter (James Louis Wagner) and Babe’s lawyer Barnette Lloyd (solidly played Wallace Angus Bruce), offer a respite from the near-hysteria of the women’s interactions. Their presence is almost necessary to ground the play, which otherwise overflows with emotion at the expense of reflection or introspection. The play’s quick pace also allows little time to pause or process, for us or for the characters, and certain serious elements such as race and mental illness are touched on but given short shrift.
Overall, though, this production of Crimes of the Heart, adroitly directed by Luke Yankee, delivers an exuberant, touching and intimate portrait of these sisters struggling to find their ways within and around the society that defines them. Their strengths and vulnerabilities are on full display as women (pantyhose and curlers coming on and off), rivalrous but loving siblings, and human beings who simply want to live their lives to the fullest.

Crimes of the Heart continues at International City Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way, through June 25, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $47 to $49. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 436-4610 or visit ictlongbeach.org.

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