Infusing some eccentric Southern charm into their 103rd season, Baltimore’s Vagabond Players segue into spring with their revival of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Crimes of the Heart.
Directed by Anne Hammontree (who played Cecily Pigeon in Vagabond Players’ The Odd Couple), the three-act goth dark comedy is set in 1974 in the small town of Hazelhurst, Mississippi, where the three McGrath sisters reunite in support of the youngest, Babe (Sarah Burton) who has shot her husband in the stomach, because she doesn’t like the way he looks.
Though the play is over four decades old, many heavy, still timely societal issues like mental illness, domestic violence, suicide, and racism are nonchalantly raised and intermittently woven throughout the tongue-in-cheek dialogue that is well-delivered by each of the actors in appropriately varying Southern dialects coached by Ann Turiano.
Each of the six-member ensemble did a commendable job of recreating a ‘70s small-town Southern vibe, which was accentuated by Moe Conn’s finely-detailed set design, and enhanced with Travis Seminara’s lighting, as well as Eric C. Stein’s sound engineering. Holly Gibbs’ dutiful and tightly-bound Lenny, Valerie Dowdle’s free-spirited but self-absorbed Meg, and Burton’s lethal but ultra-feminine Babe carefully contrast and compliment as the central trio. In addition, Laura Malkus’ cameo as the overbearing status-conscious cousin, Chick, and Gabe Fremuth’s as Meg’s affable ex-boyfriend, Doc, respectively, added colorful spice that elevated the main characters’ range and complexity. This was especially exemplified in Fremuth’s scene with Dowdle, which keenly highlighted their great chemistry and affinity on stage. Similarly, Gibbs’ transformative showdown with Malkus, broom in tow, was memorably notable to watch. Finally, Christian O’Neill’s portrayal of Barnette, Babe’s young and endearing defense attorney, aptly rounded out the cast.
Despite how messy, complicated, and sometimes tragic, life can get, Vagabond Players’ Crimes of the Heart remind us that family (or more particularly, in this instance, sisterhood), can uniquely comfort aches and ease whatever hurdles may come our way.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one seven-minute intermission between Act I and Act II, and a second ten-minute intermission between Act II and Act III.