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Theatre Review (Ventura, CA): Crimes of The Heart by Beth Henley at the Rubicon Theatre

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Crimes of the Heart is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in 1974. It tells the story of the three Magrath sisters, Meg, Babe, and Lenny, who have been raised in a dysfunctional family and have secrets (crimes of the heart) which each must face and resolve. The catalyst for the three sisters getting together is Babe’s shooting of her abusive husband. She is facing a life in jail. Lenny is the backward sister who has given up her life to take care of their grandfather who is dying in the hospital. Lenny is awkward, secretive, lonely, and a bit loony. The play opens with her celebrating her birthday all alone with a cookie and a candle. She seems desperately alone.

Things don’t get much better with the arrival of the other two sisters. Babe is a spacey blonde, oblivious to what she has done. She claims to have stabbed her husband because she didn’t like his face. Meg seems a bit more grounded because she has managed to escape this small town and move to New York. She still loves her sisters and comes home to help. She also comes to revive an old romance with a now-married doctor. All three ladies have major men problems and have run away from dealing with their feelings. Their first mistake is depending on men in the first place. It seems that most Southern women suffer from a lack of self-esteem. This may seem odd but I overheard a doctor in Alabama saying that the men keep their women home so some Yankee won't steal them.

For me this stereotyping of the hysterical Southern women is now a worn out cliché. Even the strong ones like Regina in Little Foxes are dangerous and surrounded by evil men and helpless women.

Nevertheless the performances in Crimes of the Heart were particularly strong. Tasha Ames is believable as the dimwitted Babe, Faline England is strong as the rebel Meg and really helps propel the play forward. Fara Hellwig is heartbreaking as the repressed Lenny. The supporting men are also quite fine. Jason Chanos plays the sturdy handsome Doc Porter, the object of Meg’s obsession. Ross Hellwig is the bumbling attorney with his own axe to grind with Babe’s husband. Tina Van Berckelaer rounds out the cast as the nosey relative. Jim O’Neil is the Artistic Director and the director of this fine revival. Crimes of The Heart plays at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura until May 16.

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