Review: ‘Crimes of the Heart’ at Curio Theatre Company

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Curio Theatre Company’s production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning tragicomedy, Crimes of the Heart, is the dark and hilarious tale of the Magraths — as twisted a set of sisters as you will surely ever meet.

Tessa Kuhn, Colleen Hughes and Rachel Gluck. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.
Tessa Kuhn, Colleen Hughes and Rachel Gluck. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.

Crimes of The Heart, directed by Curio founding member Gay Carducci, is set in sleepy Hazlehurst, Mississippi, and presents a day in the life of sisters Lenny, Meg, and Babe Magrath, who all find themselves reunited unexpectedly at their Grandfather’s home.

Rachel Gluck plays eldest sister Lenny, who is celebrating her thirtieth birthday in typical Magrath fashion — alone and miserable. The play begins with her attempting to light a solitary candle atop the saddest birthday cookie, priming the audience for Crimes’ unique brand of melancholic humor.

Lenny, who is well on her way to spinsterhood, is brought vividly to life by Gluck — dejected mannerisms, southern drawl and all. She never once falters as the lovable, monotone, frump.

Colleen Hughes plays middle sister Meg, fresh from a California mental institution following the dissolution of her singing career. Hughes gracefully bounds about the stage, defiant in the face of her own crumbling life, and provides the perfect yin to Gluck’s downbeat yang.

Meg, a master in the art of passive aggression, seems to antagonize Lenny by her very presence. Much of the tension in the play is built upon their craggy relationship — and yet even as they are at one another’s throat, the audience roared with laughter, a testament to the sardonic humor the play shrouds itself in.

Colleen Hughes, Rachel Gluck and Tessa Kuhn. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.
Colleen Hughes, Rachel Gluck and Tessa Kuhn. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.

Tessa Kuhn plays Babe, the angelic-faced youngest Magrath sister who may or may not be guilty of attempted murder of her abusive husband. Kuhn reminded me of a grown-up Alice in Wonderland — out of the rabbit hole and into the terrifying world of marital anguish.

The play revolves around Babe’s pending trial, her defense, and her grappling with the reality of an utterly bleak future. She, not to be outdone by her big sisters, is a character racked in pathos and dark comedic gold.

Supporting the loathsome and lovable trio is Lesley Berkowitz as Chick Boyle, the sisters’ condescending cousin. She’s perfect as the pompous, type-A ditz you can’t help but smile through your teeth at. Harry Slack plays Doc Porter, Meg’s laid-back former lover, and Chase Byrd plays Barnette Lloyd, Babe’s goofy defense attorney with a score to settle.

The play takes place entirely in the Magraths’ kitchen – but thanks to clever lighting design by Tim Martin, the passage of time, from afternoon to the early hours of the following morning, is clearly shown. Set designer Paul Kuhn also made the most of the minimalist set by constructing the outline of a house around the kitchen, giving the audience the illusion of loving home. Aetna Gallagher’s costume design was a perfect time capsule of the early eighties, making for a true period piece.

In a play which left the audience in a constant chorus of gasps and laughter, it would be hard to pick a standout. It was a joy to watch each actor breathe life into their characters — characters that will make you laugh, even if you should probably be crying.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Colleen Hughes, Tessa Kuhn and Rachel Gluck. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.
Colleen Hughes, Tessa Kuhn and Rachel Gluck. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.

Crimes of the Heart plays through December 9, 2017, at Curio Theatre Company, performing at Cavalry Center for Culture and Community – 4740 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 525 1350, or purchase them online.