It should not surprise audiences of Crimes of the Heart to learn that Babe Botrelle did not kill her husband when she shot him (she aimed for his heart but hit his stomach): she's a good Southern woman, after all, and among the other myths she heard about men and women, she undoubtedly learned that "the only way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
Babe is not the only person in Hazlehurst, Mississippi who missed her mark. Her sisters nearly collapse under the weight of missed opportunities--Meg MaGrath's Hollywood singing career halted after a nervous breakdown paralyzed her emotional life, while Lenny's consuming insecurity and big-sister responsibility complex render her incapable of enjoying the relationships she has. No, in light of her family it seems that Babe came closest of all to following through on her true feelings.
When an inspired and talented cast under the direction of Nick R. Parrillo '00 took aim at Beth Henley's difficult Crimes of the Heart, though, it hit the bull's-eye. Great Harvard plays usually work because they're big, smart and offer a thinking audience cerebral pyrotechnics and heady intellectualism; Crimes works because it rings true for anyone who has ever had a bad day.
The plot and power of the play radiate from the three MaGrath sisters, whose complex identities make their roles extremely difficult. On the surface, they are all Southern women with saccharine smiles and sweet accents. Even Meg, played by Lisa Faiman '02, who has escaped the South by moving to Los Angeles, never once loses her cultivated sense of social propriety--or her drawl. She may wear bohemian black, blaspheme her traditional upbringing and stay out all night drinking bourbon, but only because she thought she had to maintain her outer strength. Faiman's facade never cracked; her performance was seamless. She soliloquizes about smoking cigarettes--"like taking a drag off of death"--in the same breath that she makes banal and sarcastic remarks about the importance of one's liver. Faiman balances Meg's brilliantly contradictory nature, making her powerful and brash, loveable, intimate and understanding--a perfect foil to Kate Taylor's '01 portrayal of Babe Botrelle.
When Meg and Babe have their first moments alone, Meg is able to draw out Babe's darkest secrets, down to the moment when she shot her husband Zachary. Taylor's Babe is mousy and quirky, perfectly genteel if false in her most controlled moments and hauntingly lucid in her moments of insanity. She makes the tale of shooting her husband sound as normal as going to the grocery--an effect which makes it only more disturbing, and more realistic. Babe's obsession with suicide makes her seem only marginally sane, yet the profound truths she uncovers in her wildest fits reveal her as the play's wisest character, a trait that Taylor might have glossed over had she not so thoroughly understood her character.
Lenny is in the unenviable position of holding this trio together. She is the only
The play's other three characters--Chick Boyle,Doc Porter and Barnette Lloyd--provide enoughbalance to allow the audience to step away fromthe sisters' tragedies, and enough personal pathosto keep the plotline smooth. Marisa Chandler '99was perfect as self-absorbed, superficial Chick.Chandler walked tall and wore the kind of smirkycondescension on her overly made-up face thatChick's character emanated. Doc Porter came acrossas a strong-hearted, salt-of-the-earth fellow withTom Price's '02 expert handling, and MichaelDavidson '00 put just enough eccentricovereagerness into attorney Barnette Lloyd'scharacter. Had these actors been any less subtle,they would have made the play a farce, but insteadthey prodded the sisters into an even higher stateof authenticity.
In the hands of these extremely able actors,the drama could stand strong on an empty stage,but the efforts of director Nick Parrillo andproducers John B. Cearley '99 and Ali Ruth Davis'00 to capitalize on the details give theproduction its finessed perfection. The set of theMaGrath household is brilliant. The stage isfilled with infinite, touching details--ahalf-empty bottle of diswashing liquid on acluttered counter top, cheap curtains, Coke in therefrigerator, flowered wallpaper--which appeal notonly to the domestic nostalgia of an itinerantcollege student, but to anyone who has ever spenttime in a home kitchen. That the set has runningwater is in itself a technical triumph--a touch,however, that was not flaunted, but put in placeto avoid distraction. Afternoon turned into duskinto night into dawn with subtle but cruciallighting and sound effects. The talent andimagination of the people behind the scenes--theset designers, set dressers, costume designers,sound and light directors--were stretched as farand as creatively as they are for any of theMainstage's more bombastic productions, but to thetriumphant effect of authenticity and reality.
At the end of the day, this fall's productionof Crimes of the Heart will not beremembered as the season's loudest, mostrevolutionary play; its distinction, instead, willbe its unforgettable characters, virtuosoperformances, authentic seamlessness and--most ofall--its resonant truth