By DAVID DeLUCA
ASHTABULA — “Crimes of the Heart,” as performed by the Ashtabula Arts Center’s G.B. Community Theatre, is a wickedly wry black comedy set in Hazelhurst, Miss., 5 years after Hurricane Camille.
It tells the story of three sisters from an incredibly dysfunctional family who are left to examine the consequences of their own personal crimes of the heart. Steeped in southern nuance and atmosphere, “Crimes of the Heart” is funny, fun, and well worth seeing.
“Crimes of the Heart” was written by Beth Henley in 1978. It originally opened on Broadway in 1981, directed by Melvin Bernhardt, and ran for 535 shows. A Tony Award winner, it was adapted for the screen in 1986. Since then it has been a perennial off-Broadway and small theatre stock production.
The first scene of “Crimes of the Heart” is a tearjerker. For leading character Lenny McGrath, portrayed by Amanda Latva, it looks like it’s going to be a bad day. ‘Old Grand-daddy,’ the closest thing to a father Lenny has ever had, is on his deathbed. Her youngest sister, Babe, is in jail awaiting arraignment for shooting her husband, and her wild sister Meg can’t even be located. Her beloved pet pony has been struck dead by lightning. And it’s her birthday and no one remembered.
Things continue to get worse, but for each complication there’s more audience laughter. As situations grow increasingly dire they almost seem absurd, leading to a lot more laughter. Almost everyone has had bad days, but not like this.
A very young G. B. Community Theatre cast tackles the task of performing this relatively difficult ‘dialect piece’ with relish — and fine results. Each actor or actress brings something to his or her part, whether it’s flair, emotional insight, or the appropriate quirk. Latva perfectly plays the bedraggled oldest sister, Lenny Magrath, and Angela Orr artfully plays her nemesis Chick Boyle, her scheming, nasty cousin. Ashley Perts is very credible as the star-struck, flakey middle sister, and David E. Ard believably portrays Doc Porter, her heartbroken, sexually frustrated ex-boyfriend. Gabby Sherbeyn plays youngest sister Babe Botrelle with equal parts of childish innocence and lunacy, and Joshua Woodward faithfully plays Babe’s befuddled, vendetta-bound lawyer.
The three sisters aren’t trailer trash, they’re just a little ‘different.’ Different or not, it’s not difficult to identify with these characters. There’s plenty of southern ‘business’ in “Crimes of the Heart,” as members of the cast constantly make lemonade, drink ‘Cokes’ (or pop, as we Yankees would call it), drop off pecans as peace offerings, sneak bourbon whiskey, and pick ‘paw-paws’ (or papaya) for diversion.
The play takes place on one set, Lenny’s kitchen, which was truthfully rendered from the original Broadway set by Phil Mullet. The stage crew did an excellent job. Tim Dorman provided professional stage sound for the production. All the action takes place in two acts interspersed with a 10-minute intermission, so the play is fast paced.
It is directed by Linda Fundis.
“I’m so proud of this cast,” Fundis said. “They’re such a young group and some are relatively inexperienced, but they did so well. The opening night was packed and they brought down the house. They all hit their marks.”
“Crimes of the Heart” continues at 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.