Review: CRIMES OF THE HEART Enjoyably Revisits Beth Henley's 1981 Classic

By: Jan. 25, 2017
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L-R: Kristin Chiles, Hannah Lane Farrell, and
Shannon Embry
(Photo by Aleks Ortynski)

CRIMES OF THE HEART, produced by City Theatre, is the Pulitzer prize-winning comedy by Beth Henley. Originally premiering in 1979, the show ran on Broadway in 1981 and garnered a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best American Play. In 1986, a film adaptation starring Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton, and Sissy Spacek was released. The film received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay. In recent history, the play was revived and presented at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2007, directed by Kathleen Turner. The revival also enjoyed a brief off-Broadway run in 2008 with Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Jennifer Dundas in the starring roles.

CRIMES OF THE HEART tells the story of the Magrath sisters, Lenny (Kristin Chiles), Meg (Shannon Embry), and Babe (Hannah Lane Farrell). The play opens in the kitchen of Old Granddaddy's home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on what might be described by the sisters as, "A bad day." Babe has just been released on bail for shooting her abusive husband and is seemingly unconcerned with the hefty punishment her actions may carry. Meg, a failed singer, arrives from Hollywood after a brief stint in a psychiatric ward. Meanwhile, poor Lenny's thirtieth birthday has been overshadowed by all the excitement. Raised by their grandparents after their mother's suicide, the women must come to terms with their traumatic childhood and face the consequences of past transgressions. The sisters must also contend with the family busy body, Chick (Samantha Brewer), Meg's former flame, Doc (Chad Dike), and Babe's well-meaning lawyer with a vendetta, Barnette (Matt Buzonas).

The actors are well suited for this production's genre of storytelling. Kristin Chiles, Shannon Embry, and Hannah Lane Farrell exhibit natural rapport and comedic timing with one another. At times it's easy to forget that three women are not actually siblings. Kristin Chiles' memorable turn as Lenny was an exceptional treat. Chiles' deep-rooted, yet hopeful portrayal of the oldest Magrath sister has the audience cheering for the underdog character from beginning to end. Though each woman's individual performance is unique and well done, together the trio creates an engaging family dynamic. As the sisters cut into Lenny's belated birthday cake during the closing scene, the production feels as if it's been replaced with a real-life family interaction.

The supporting cast of characters also provides noteworthy performances. Samantha Brewer is delightfully loathsome as cousin Chick with her syrupy sweet accent and teased hair. Brewer embraces the comedy of her characters' antics which makes Chick's condescending martyrdom much more tolerable and Lenny's revenge (involving the swift swat of a broom) much more satisfying. As Meg's former flame, Chad Dike exhibits genuine chemistry with Embry as Doc and Meg rekindle their lost love. Matt Buzonas is charming as Barnette Lloyd, Babe's young lawyer who is determined to ruin her estranged husband.

Direction and staging by Rod Mechem are effective and, for the most part, aligned with the tone of the play. While the humor and poignancy of the piece are well interpreted, moments dealing with heavier themes (racial issues, domestic violence, and mental health) seem to be glossed over in comparison. The sobering reality of these situations, at times, feels unabsorbed by the cast. This feels more like an oversight rather than a directional choice given the ability and talent of those involved. Mechem also brought the setting of Old Granddaddy's modest kitchen to life with his charming design. Full of knick-knacks and cheery colors reminiscent of the late 1970's, this kitchen could be found in any traditional southern woman's home. Costume design by Heather Bullard also remained true to the vivid color scheme and compliments the time period of play.

City Theatre's production of CRIMES OF THE HEART enjoyably revisits Beth Henley's 1981 classic. Humor and family dysfunction go hand in hand, but what lies beneath the southern flair is a story about love, hope, and forgiveness. Fans of the similarly female-driven, Steel Magnolias may find a new addition to their list of theatrical favorites.

CRIMES OF THE HEART plays at City Theatre, 3823 Airport Blvd, until February 5th.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm.

General Seating: $15, Front/2nd Row Reserved: $20-25, Tickets at the door: $20, Thursday (all seats): $10. Group and student discount available.

To purchase tickets or for more information, call 512-524-2870 or email


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