|Jayne Furlong, Adriana Gantzer, and Amelia Morgan-Rothschild|
By Tina Arth
There’s just something about sisters in the South – from the gloom and doom of Streetcar Named Desire to the utterly fluffy Dearly Beloved, American theater is rife with tales of the complex relationships between siblings raised below the Mason-Dixon Line. Mask & Mirror’s current production of Crimes of the Heart is perched right in the middle of the road – not nearly as dark as Streetcar, but substantive enough to escape the clichéd slapstick of Beloved. Playwright Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning script is loaded with humor, but also takes a respectful look at important themes like domestic violence, depression, infidelity, even suicide. Director Linda Morris Taluto and her cast present the seemingly absurd (she shot her husband “because I didn’t like his stinkin’ looks!”) yet integrate these moments into an oddly believable reality, and the result is a compelling story that flows easily between the wacky and the profoundly serious.
The story revolves around the three Magrath sisters, the mousy stay-at-home Lenny, flamboyant and promiscuous Meg, and winsomely bipolar Babe, reuniting in the family home as their grandfather is dying. Meg’s failed singing career in Los Angeles has devolved into a nervous breakdown, Lenny is facing her 30th birthday alone (sticking candles in a cookie and singing “Happy Birthday” to herself), and Babe is out on bail after having shot her husband. The sisters have all been damaged by their mother’s sensational suicide when they were children (the event got national coverage because she also hung her cat), and they have never really succeeded in forming lasting relationships outside of their tiny family circle. We can’t completely predict how their lives will turn out after the final curtain, but it is clear that they will survive because of the strength they draw from each other.
Much of the comic relief comes from the Magrath’s cousin, Chick Boyle (Katherine Roundy). From the opening scene where she struggles into a pair of extra small pantyhose through a series of exceptionally snarky moments until, finally, Lenny chases her out of the kitchen with a broom, Roundy exemplifies the stereotypical Southern matron obsessed with the family’s good name. Jay Dressler plays Babe’s neophyte lawyer Barnette Lloyd with an earnest naivety – he is clearly dazzled by the Magrath sisters and seriously enamored of his client. Nathan Larrabee is charmingly seductive as Meg’s now-married ex beau Doc Porter, and he delights the audience (if not Meg) with the mature backbone hidden beneath his devil-may-care exterior.
Of course, it’s the three sisters who make or break this show, and Taluto’s trio does a spectacular job of dealing with humor and heartbreak, sometimes simultaneously. Amelia Morgan-Rothschild moves the seriously delusional “Babe” through an amazing menu of emotions, integrating low comedy with high drama in a feast of bi-polar behavior. Jayne Furlong (“Meg”) has mastered the art of self-centered brassiness, both in her facial expressions and her strident voice, yet gives her character just enough subliminal warmth that we sense the pain and love beneath her hard shell. Adriana Gantzer’s “Lenny” is a perfect combination of dowdiness, disappointment, insecurity, and loneliness – humorously pathetic, but always with an undertone of real tragedy until she finds the confidence to grab the reins of her own life.
“Woody” Woodbury’s set is a thing of beauty - the classic kitchen as symbol for the heart of family – and Cindy Zimmerman’s set dressing contains dozens of tiny touches that complete the picture, and set the stage for a funny, touching, lovely play that should not be missed.
Crimes of the Heart is playing at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday March 11, 18, 25 and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday March 12, 19, 26. The role of Barnette Lloyd will be played by Blaine Vincent III on March 11, 18, 19, and 26.