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CRIMES OF THE HEART (article first published : 2005-04-17)

Lennie Magrath is not having a good day. To start with, it’s her 30th birthday and only her irritating busybody cousin has remembered, giving her a box of candy which is accompanied by a homily on buying cheap clothing. She shares a home with her grandfather but he’s been taken to hospital and the prognosis is not too bright. Her old flame arrives with a bag of pecan nuts which doesn’t soften the blow that her beloved horse, stabled on his property, has died after having been struck by lighting.

The sour cherry on the non-existent birthday cake is the fact that her sister Babe has been jailed for shooting her high-ranking politician husband and the only reason she’s giving is that she “didn’t like his face”! Lennie sends a telegram to the third sister, who she assumes is pursuing a successful career as a singer, asking her to come home. When Meg arrives it is evident that her life has changed considerably.

The various meanderings and moods of the plot of Crimes of the Heart make up an excellent, fascinating and hilarious piece of theatre presented by KickstArt and currently running at Kwasuka Theatre.

Readers will be happy to hear that Lennie eventually gets her birthday cake and the annual wish in which she puts great store: this time, that there is a moment - not necessarily a lasting one - in which all three sisters laugh together.

As always, director Greg King has drawn fine performances from his cast with the long-suffering Lennie played with passion by Clare Mortimer as she steadily takes control of her life. Liesl Coppin is consistently strong in the complicated role of Meg. Carol Trench reminds us of her impressive capacity for comedy as the busybody cousin. As Lenny’s lost love, Michael Gritten smoulders with passion for Meg despite the fact that he is married with children. Bryan Hiles is suitably earnest as the young lawyer, Barnette, who has his own axe to grind.

As Babe, it is Olivia Borgen who takes the honours. Her father’s spoilt and treasured fairy-like creature when she was small, she is now married to an obnoxious bully, subjected to physical abuse and finds her sanity in an illicit relationship with a young man of colour. Olivia’s performance is spellbinding. Okay, she has some of the best lines but through it all she presents an adorable character of such clarity and simplicity you feel you would have no hesitation in pronouncing her “not guilty” if you were a jury member!

The three sisters have some marvellous scenes together – alternately filled with fond reminiscences, sibling rivalry, frustrated anger, emotional support and helpless laughter – particularly during a most inappropriate discussion!

The only problem I have is that Olivia’s first dress looked more like a young girl’s party frock than the outfit of a public figure. Arguably, she might have had time to change after a rendezvous with her lover prior to the shooting but she certainly spent the night in a small-town jail. Her hair could also have been more maturely styled before she starts to unwind back at home with her sisters.

Beth Henley’s script is a delight. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, she specialises in "Southern-accented" dramas that represent life in this region and her writings focus on female bonding. Crimes of the Heart was first shown in the Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1979. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and has been made into a film starring Sissy Spacek, Dianne Keaton and Jessica Lange.

Beth Henley skilfully weaves her fairly convoluted story with many twists and turns, allowing audiences a few seconds of delicious anticipation of what is to come without the script becoming predictable.

Crimes of the Heart runs until April 30 and Greg King’s set, supported by the Playhouse Company’s Mayville Workshops, is highly effective, workable and authentic. – Don’t miss it!

Tickets R65 booked through Computicket with concessions for pensioners, scholars and large groups. There is a Sunday matinee at 15h00 with a free cup of tea or coffee! – Caroline Smart




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