BWW Review: CRIMES OF THE HEART at The Vagabond

BWW Review: CRIMES OF THE HEART at The VagabondIn the 1980s, movies and shows frequently featured brave farm and factory women (e.g. Sally Field) fighting for justice or sweet, sassy Southern women (e.g. Sally Field and Sissy Spacek) struggling to drag the Confederacy into a new century. Playwright Beth Henley picks up where Tennessee Williams left off in this award winning foremother of New Southern stories. Dysfunctional families, in this case the Magrath sisters, hide secrets and struggle to reconnect and make progress in small towns like Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Director Anne Hammontree negotiates some of the dated elements of the story with finesse and beautifully choreographes a talented and exceptionally well cast ensemble of actors.

Oldest sister Lenny (Holly Gibbs), holds down the family home caregiving elders and care taking tradition while putting her own life on hold. Prodigal daughter, Meg (Valerie Dowdle) escaped for a better life, but things didn't turn out so well. Babe (Sarah Burton) is the coddled youngest, a classic sweet Southern girl who is way more sassy than her delicate appearance suggests.

Eccentric locals are represented by sharp tongued Chick (Laura Markus) first cousin to the Magrath sisters, eager young lawyer Barnette Lloyd (Christian O' Neil) and local heartthrob Doc Porter (Gabe Fremuth).

In this world, everyone has at least one given name and two or three nicknames, problems are hashed out over the kitchen table with homemade lemonade and everyone knows that families stick together even when they want to strangle the truth out of each other.

The kitchen is the heart of the Southern home and Gibbs is the heart of the play. Every mood she portrays is an absolute delight. You hope her Lenny finds a way to rise up and create the birthday celebration she deserves. Dowdle saunters in with the perfect mix of broken dreams and boho chic. She is the spice and Burton's Babe is the sugar. Until you find out that all that icing covers a gritty instinct for self preservation. The trio of actresses share a wonderful bond as each gets a chance to touch on the archetypes of the old world: hidden female hero, jaded romantic and ultimate survivor.

Malkus is wonderfully acerbic as diapproving Chick. She is so entertaining you want to see more of her character. She is a woman in charge, but ready to disapprove about old-fashioned man troubles: Lenny's got none, Meg's had too many, and Babe doesn't know what she is doing with the one she has.

Fremuth plays Meg's former flame Doc who is still making hearts flutter. Fremuth achieves this admirably with the underlying sadness of a man who knows his chance has past. Young hope appears for Babe in the form of attorney Barnette played with nimble charm by O'Neill. Thanks to Hammontree's guidance and the actors' dedication, these three characters add energy every time they appear making them anything but minor.

The doors in this world are unlocked even as the women are trapped by expectations. The patriarchy looms large in the unseen character of Old Daddy. He is Chick's father and raised the three sisters as his own. He may be unconscious, but they still seek his approval. They remain stuck until they realize they can live without it. Originally produced in 1979, this production is a revelation about how far we've come and how far we have to go.

CRIMES OF THE HEART plays now thru March 24th at the Vagabond Players located on 806 South Broadway. For more information, call 410-593-9153 or go online to

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From This Author Tina Collins