Mississippi playwright and screenwriter Beth Henley's popular first play, the knee-slapping Southern Gothic comedy Crimes of the Heart, is frequently produced hereabouts. So, its characters are old friends and its comic rhythms are also well known. But this sparkling script, which was nominated for the 1982 Tony Award® for Best Play and won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, suffers from the broad-brush approach employed by North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre guest director Alison Lawrence in the current community-theater production.
Lawrence has Adrienne Morton as Chick Boyle and, to a lesser degree, Page Purgar as Meg Magrath chewing the scenery like a couple of starving termites on Dexadrine while the rest of the cast goes with the comic flow, so to speak. From her initial entrance, Adrienne Morton's over-caffeinated characterization grates. This Chick blows through the ramshackle Magrath family home like it has an invisible fox snapping at its tail feathers. Page Purgar likewise overdoes some of Meg's early scenes, but she settles down. Morton's hyperactive Chick settles ... anywhere.
Compared to Morton and Purgar's histrionics, Alison Leigh LaRue is a veritable picture of restraint as Lenny, the stay-at-home Magrath sister and caretaker of Old Granddaddy. Lenny, who is turning 30 as the curtain rises, is worn to a frazzle from taking care of her grandfather and has the grim specter of spinsterhood staring back at her from every mirror in the house. LaRue's performance might be a little too low-key; but her Lenny is preferable to Purgar's Meg (initially) and Morton's Chick (throughout the show).
Jess Barbour also has her moments as the family wild child, Rebecca "Babe" (or "Becky") Magrath Botrelle, who has shot her wealthy and politically prominent husband Zachary, because she says she just didn't like his looks. Andy Miller is sweet as Meg's former boyfriend Doc Porter, whom she loved and left. Now Doc is married, but still mooning over the fickle Meg; and they manage an ill-advised moonlight drive where a bottle of whiskey might loosen inhibitions that should be battened down tight.
Edward Cooke is amusing as Babe's hard-charging attorney Barnette Lloyd, who hopes to use his comely client's court case as a forum to hang some of Zachary Botrelle's dirtiest laundry out in public. But when Barnette finds himself falling in love with Babe, he must choose between using her case to carry out his personal vendetta against her husband, or postponing Zachary's comeuppance to another day.
The show's set, which director Alison Lawrence co-designed with technical director and lighting designer Mike Anderson, is a far more elaborate than usual NRACT set. In fact, the recreation of the kitchen and dining area of Old Granddaddy's house is quite detailed. But Lawrence needs to rein in Adrienne Morton and, to a lesser extent, Page Purgar before their characterizations become caricatures. Moderation would greatly improve Morton's impersonation of snooty, social-climbing Chick and her condescending characterization of her cousins, the Magrath sisters, as "Cheap Christmas trash," and Purgar's depiction of failed country singer-turned-office worker Meg.
Crimes of the Heart continues March 19-21 and 26-28 at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. See our theatre calendar for details.