Crimes of the Heart

By Beth Henley
Third Eye Repertory
Common Basis Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Maya Amis

The Third Eye Repertory recently presented a revival of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart. At the center of the play are three very different sisters who have come together at a time of crisis. As the play goes on, the author reveals more and more information about the current crisis and about the family's past. Some, but not all, of this information is known all along to the characters, but not to the audience. The oldest sister, repressed and lonely, was beautifully portrayed by Claire Coward, whose face could become luminous with hope and then abruptly close down in controlled despair. The bad-girl middle sister erupts on stage like a bolt of lightning. As played by Meredith Charles, she was a woman of extremes of mood and behavior and was seldom still. The third sister, and the one around whom the trouble revolves, is a sometimes childlike character filled with contradiction. Robyn Parsons made her real and vulnerable, while making it believable that under provocation she could be capable of decisive action.

While the sisters cope with current problems, old scars, and their own complex sisterly bonds, they also have to deal with small-town attitudes and gossip, as personified by their disapproving cousin, Chick, perhaps slightly overplayed by Jill Brewer. The character itself is so irritating that it is difficult to tell whether she could be played naturalistically, but she was very funny. The two males in the play are both sympathetic characters, but they pale in comparison to the vivid eccentricity of the sisters. Nonetheless, Don Goettler, as a neighbor and former lover of one of the women, and Andrew Grant, as a lawyer and would-be flame of another, were both utterly genuine, and even touching in their at times confused devotion.

Director Leonard Jacobs focused on the unfolding revelations that are the heart of the play. Since discovery must involve both the discoverer and that which is discovered, Jacobs chose to extend this relationship to include the audience. He physically placed the audience in the play, as present but non-participating observers, by projecting the action into the L-shaped space occupied by the audience. Jacobs deliberately, and to great effect, broke a hard-and-fast rule of the theatre at one point in order to emphasize his vision of the audience's role in this endeavor. It is to his credit that Jacobs kept this rather long play interesting and engaging, and it was due to him and his first-rate cast that the characters, if not the events, remained believable.

The physical aspects of this production were all very good without being unduly showy. Meredith Charles's fairly plain set gave the illusion of being a fully furnished kitchen. The real appliances helped, as did details such as a spice rack hung on the wall beside a section of the audience. Lighting and sound were effective and unobtrusive as designed by Annemarie Duggan and Mario Ortiz, while Carolyn Barnes's costumes were dead-on accurate for each character.

Breath: The Passionate Life and Extraordinary Language of Emily Dickinson

Constructed from Emily Dickinson's poetry and letters by David Wolfson and Lynn Wichern; additional text by David Wolfson; choreography by Lynn Wichern; music by David Wolfson

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Maya Amis

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