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Review: A Fine Production of CRIMES OF THE HEART is Playing at Desert Rose Playhouse

Desert Rose Playhouse's production runs through July 3rd.

CRIMES OF THE HEART, the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama and a Tony nominee for best play, is currently playing at Desert Rose Playhouse. The production is well-directed and well-acted, and the play itself is absorbing, with both shallow and deep moments. Desert Rose's take on Beth Henley's play is very much worth seeing.

For those unfamiliar with Desert Rose and its mission, the theatre has two separate areas of focus: Productions about LGBTQ+ people, and productions oriented towards mainstream audiences, but written by members of the LGBTQ+ community. This play falls into the second category - the playwright is bisexual, but the play itself, about straight women, is a Southern Gothic dramedy that will appeal to all genders and orientations.

Review: A Fine Production of CRIMES OF THE HEART is Playing at Desert Rose Playhouse
Middle sister Meg (Zoe Sanchez).

The story concerns three sisters, 30-year-old Lenny (Laura Martinez-Urrea), twenty-seven-year-old Meg (Zoe Sanchez), and twenty-four-year-old Babe (Emily Rose Unnasch). Their father disappeared from the family when they were young and their mother hanged herself and her beloved cat. Their grandfather took them in and raised them in his home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, but is currently in the hospital and unlikely to recover from multiple strokes. The sisters get together at their grandfather's home after Babe, the only married sister, has spent a night in jail for shooting and wounding her abusive husband after he caught her with a lover. The other three cast members consist of Nick Wass as Barnette Lloyd, Babe's sleazy and not necessarily competent attorney; Alexa Ottoson as Chick, the sisters' cousin, who looks down on all three of them; and Jason Reale as Doc, a former boyfriend of one of the sisters, and friend of them all.

Review: A Fine Production of CRIMES OF THE HEART is Playing at Desert Rose Playhouse
Attorney Barnette Lloyd (Nick Wass) spills privileged
information about Babe's case to Meg.

Based on the combination television and VCR that appears on the set (a product of the mid-1980's), director Robbie Wayne has apparently chosen the middle of the Reagan era to set the play. However, the exact mid-20th century decade (sixties, seventies, or eighties) does not really matter; the play clearly takes place well before adult women having sex with male high school students became criminal and before women felt free to make their own life decisions. Those who saw last year's MISS FIRECRACKER CONTEST, which is a far more cheerful and less deep story, will recognize Beth Henley's methods of parodying Southern female communication and her bizarre sense of humor, even though CRIMES OF THE HEART is not a true comedy.

Review: A Fine Production of CRIMES OF THE HEART is Playing at Desert Rose Playhouse
Cousin Chick (Alexa Ottoson) annoys Lenny.

Nevertheless, director Robbie Wayne and the actors manage to wring humor from several grim situations. CRIMES OF THE HEART ends on a cheerful note for some of the characters, who demonstrate growth that even they do not expect. However, not all the characters' story arcs are resolved, which some audience members may find unsatisfying.

None of the six young cast members has significant acting experience with Desert Rose, but their performances are all believable and energetic, and they are obviously having a ball. My only problems with the performances is that some of the actors spoke too softly (although that could have been a problem with the sound system) and, more importantly, several spoke too quickly - this Yankee reviewer had troubles keeping up with the fast clip of the Southern-accented speech. I missed a lot of lines as a result.

Review: A Fine Production of CRIMES OF THE HEART is Playing at Desert Rose Playhouse
Attorney Lloyd Barnette, his client, Babe, and
the picture display.

The set is another character in many of Desert Rose's plays, including this production's brilliant design by Matthew McLean, which consists of the kitchen, living room, and staircase in Granddaddy's house. Mr. McLean uses drab colors, dated cabinetry, a haphazard display of photographs and art, and especially, a worn-out set of dinette chairs and 1950's or earlier appliances, to portray the residents as lacking any sense of style or design, although Mr. McLean, himself, possesses each of those senses in abundance. The result is that this prominent family's home is thoroughly depressing. Is this a result of the occupants' emotional problems or does looking at the drab prison day after day help create the characters' depressed moods? This is a point for audience members to ponder.

One intriguing bit of scenery is a triangular flag box with a United States flag inside - the kind that people often use for the flag received at a veteran's funeral. Although it has no direct relevance to the story, the displayed, folded flag again creates the opportunity for audience members to speculate about why it is there. This proud display of the Stars and Stripes, rather than either the Confederate battle flag or the Stars and Bars, implies that the family members do not buy into the South's mid-20th century racial attitudes - something that does, in fact, relate to an important aspect of the play - although there is a laugh line about someone's "half-Yankee" children.

The result of the combination of fine performances and technical design (lighting, sound, and visual) is that CRIMES OF THE HEART is well worth seeing. It will keep audiences engaged for some time afterwards, thinking about the aspects that are not resolved by the final curtain. I highly recommend attending this production.

The rest of the production crew consists of Nick Wass (sound and lighting design), Bill Kates (costume design), James Cesena (graphic design), Violet Feath (lighting operator), Koby Queenan (sound operator), Zoe Sanchez (stage manager), Robbie Wayne (props), Jeff Dove (scenic painter, assisted by Laura Martinez-Urrea, Alexa Ottoson, Zoe Sanchez, Nick Wass, and Koby Queenan).

Review: A Fine Production of CRIMES OF THE HEART is Playing at Desert Rose Playhouse
Lenny, Chick, and family friend Doc (Jason Reale).

CRIMES OF THE HEART will run for five more performances: Wednesday through Thursday, June 29-30, 2022, at 7 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, July 1-2, 2022 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 3, 2022 at 2 p.m. Individual seats are $39. High-top tables (which seat four people) and VIP couches (which seat two to three) are $177. The Desert Rose Playhouse is located at 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, in the same shopping center as the Palm Springs Revivals.

Photos courtesy of Desert Rose Playhouse.




From This Author - Audrey Liebross


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