Before there was Desperate Housewives, before there was Sex in the City, before there was Thelma and Louise, there was the play, Crimes of the Heart.
Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play opened last night at Herndon’s Next Stop Theatre.
A solid production, with a talented cast, Henley’s script proves that good, old fashioned storytelling still has a place on the American stage, as well as an enduring power to enthrall audiences in the lives of people they only just met.
Directed by Suzanne Maloney, this Crimes of the Heart might not have as many of the sharp emotional edges or fiercely dark humor that the script is most known for, but it moves at great pace and never once loses its audience appeal.
Crimes of the Heart explores the true meaning of what it means to have “a bad day.”
Let’s start with your husband catching you having sex with an African-American 15-year-old neighbor boy (16 is the current age of consent in ).
Then follow that bit of statutory rape by putting a bullet into the same wealthy husband and State Senator’s gut.
Then finish it off by making some super sugary lemonade, which you offer to your husband as he bleeds to near death on the living room floor.
That’s Babe, the youngest Magrath sister, played with child-like cheeriness by Rebecca Hausman. Married off at 18 to the wealthiest man in town, Babe lives lonely and abused until she meets the boy of her life.
Anna Fagan takes on the eldest sister, Lenny, and she gives her a desperate shyness that begs for happiness.
You see, Lenny just turned 30 and is looking spinsterhood square in the fishnets, as she spends her days taking care of Grandpa and worrying about her defective ovary.
Then you have Meg, the one who got away, who ran off to California to find fame on the power of her voice.
A bourbon-chugging, hard-smoking singer who suddenly cannot sing, Carolyn Kashner gives this Magrath a wry smile.
This trio of actresses makes a fine family portrait, especially when bitchy cousin Chick is seen looking in from the outside with her sappy disapproval. As played by Jaclyn Young, you will want to wring her neck.
Matt Baughman and Robert Pike round out the cast as Doc Porter and Barnette Lloyd respectively. Baughman’s Doc once had a thing for Meg, when he still had dreams of becoming a doctor and before she left him crippled by hurricane Camille.
Pike’s young lawyer Barnette is all feisty revenge as he defends Babe’s homicidal outburst by aiming for the Senator’s dirty laundry.
Next Stop’s production team is led by Scenic Designer Jack Golden, who gives us the Magrath family home. With lighting by AnnMarie Castrigno and costumes by Kristina Martin, the odd time-warp that is Hazlehurst comes into being.
Wonderfully, thirty-five years have not dimmed the power of Henley’s script. Powerful men still wield their power, and the women caught in their grip still suffer the backlash even as they grit and bear it.
Crimes of the Heart is dark humor on estrogen, as guffaw meets coma and suicide says hello to chuckle, but to make the play belly laugh the existential despair must be as real as the desire to endure it.
This production might find that heat; until then, its a Crime worth every heartbeat.
Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.