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Set in Hazelhurst, MS, in 1974, five years after Hurricane Camille, Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner, Crimes of the Heart, has passions aplenty, all running at flood level. PlayMakers Repertory Company guest director John Feltch’s fresh, new take on this much-produced Southern Gothic comedy casts actresses closer to the ages of the characters — and to let them act their ages — while harnessing the energy of those passions, and unleashing wave after wave of laughter during an evening that ended with a rare (for PlayMakers) standing ovation.
The play begins on the 30th birthday of stay-at-home sister Lennora Josephine “Lenny” Magrath (Regan Thompson), who still lives in the family home and serves as caretaker for the never-seen Old Granddaddy, who is currently in the hospital, presumably banging away at death’s door. The imminent passing of Old Granddaddy and the scandalous shooting by 24-year-old Rebecca “Babe” Magrath Botrelle (Lesley Shires) of her surly husband, Zachary, a prominent Mississippi attorney and state senator from one of Hazelhurst’s finest families, cause Lenny to summon home from California 27-year-old Margaret “Meg” Magrath (Janie Brookshire), who has abandoned her hope of a career as a country singer to take a secretarial job in a dogfood factory.
The rest of this outstanding ensemble includes Wesley Schultz as Meg’s old flame Doc Porter, Marshall Spann as Babe’s lawyer Barnette Lloyd, and Annie Meisels as Magrath cousin Chick Boyle.
Regan Thompson is a treat as plain, gawky Lenny, who has only had one boyfriend in her who life — and sent him packing prematurely — and Janie Brookshire is delightful as the sadder-but-wiser wisecracking Meg. But it is Lesley Shires’ amusing antics as the hopelessly spoiled Babe, who married well but not wisely, that bring the house down as, bit by bit, she reveals the sordid events that led up to the shooting of her big-shot husband and to her making and drinking a glass of ice-cold lemonade before dialing 911.
Wesley Schultz is sweet as Doc, whose colossal crush on Meg remains undiminished despite her peremptory abandonment of him, in a Biloxi hospital, after he was seriously injured when Hurricane Camille hit, and despite the fact that he is now married to a Yankee and has a couple of half-Yankee children. Marshall Spann is a pip as Barnette, the eager beaver attorney who takes Babe’s case for an ulterior motive (he has an all-consuming personal vendetta against Zachary Botrelle), and then finds himself falling in love with his client; and Annie Meisels is a scream as snooty, high-strung, snarky Chick Boyle, who repeatedly puts down her Magrath cousins as “cheap Christmas trash.” Watching Meisels sashay into and out of each scene is a delight.
Director John Feltch has cast the show superbly and gets a crisp comic characterization from each and every cast member; and new set and costume designer Jan Chambers does a magnificent job of recreating Old Granddaddy’s kitchen and front porch in loving detail, with overhead tree limbs dripping with Spanish moss. Chambers’ 1970s costumes also prove eye-catching, and creative contributions of lighting designer M.L. Geiger and sound designer Michèl Marrano also help make the PlayMakers Repertory Company presentation of Crimes of the Heart a truly memorable evening with six colorful characters that Reader’s Digest would surely label as “unforgettable.”
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Crimes of the Heart Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 30-Nov. 2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 3, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, Nov. 6-10, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $10-$32. 919/962-PLAY or. NOTE 1 : PlayMakers will participate in the national “Free Night of Theatre”on Nov. 1st. Anyone who has never attended a PRC production may reserve complimentary tickets to Crimes of the Heart by visiting http://freenightoftheater.net/. NOTE 2: There will be free post-show discussions on Oct. 31st and Nov. 4th. NOTE There will be a special Educational Matinee at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 6th (for details, see http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/studentmatinee.aspx). NOTE 4: There will be an all-access performance at 8 p.m. on Nov. 6th, which will be audio-described by Arts Access, Inc., and also features Braille playbills, large-print playbills, and a tactile tour (arranged in advance) for patrons with impaired vision. NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/) and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,”a free psychoanalytic discussion, after the Nov. 10th and 11th performances. PlayMakers Repertory Company: http://www.playmakersrep.org/ Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2820. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090886/.