A dark comedy set in Mississippi, Crimes of the Heart follows the conflicts, desires and foibles of three sisters. Lenny is the elder, stuck at home caring for her granddaddy, whilst middle-child Meg is out in California, aiming for stardom, and Babe, the youngest, is shacked up with husband Zachary.
Babe has just shot Zachary, (she didn’t like his looks!) and the play follows the sisters attempting to deal with this fact, though it is often farcically overshadowed by their own problems. The sisters have had a difficult life – Daddy left home and their Mom hanged herself – and we get blackly comic glimpses back into their old lives. The three actors (Molly Stacey as Lenny, Isla Iago as Meg, and Jasmin Rees as Babe) were at their best when together onstage, lost in nostalgia with a vibrant, sparkling chemistry.
Stacey’s performance as Lenny brilliantly brought out the vulnerable anger of a downtrodden woman constantly oscillating between adult responsibility and childishness. Isla Iago as Meg was dramatic and confident – and yet, as with all the characters, unguarded moments reveal elements of the past of which she is not proud. But these moments always conveyed something about the present, and were played with poignancy or humour as necessary.
Barnette the lawyer (Josh McClure) got some of the biggest laughs of the show when playing against Rees as Babe. Their prospective romance was played with great comic timing, though corpsing did appear to be a problem during some of the routines. Rees gave a standout performance as a troubled, naïve, child-like woman who was nonetheless carnal and violent. Amazingly, all these elements were brought out in turn, often within one dialogue.
The versatility of the actors was most impressive. The mood of the performance turned on a sixpence, and the great cast drew sparkling humour out of desperate situations, brilliantly aware of comic timing and bathos. Chick (Ellie Cole) is a great villain, and Peter Chappell as Doc Porter, a small part with no real laughs, created a sombre and poignant character in contrast with his old flame Meg and her sisters.
Also admirable were the finer details. Rehearsal of the more slapstick elements, such as spilling the coke or dropping the phone, were pleasingly well accomplished, and the music carried us wholly to the southern states in the mid-twentieth century. The lighting was oppressively domestic and bleak when it needed to be, forcing characters into dark extremities at times of strife, although the red flashing lights overdid a scene which did not need such additions when the actor’s performance was so consummate.
Not that the lights spoiled it – this performance is highly recommended. It was a perfectly pitched production which everyone bought into, lifted by three brilliant central performances, and great supporting roles too. Any fool who believes that idiotic idea that women aren’t funny needs to see this, and spend an evening laughing at these fabulously dark comic performances who enjoy arguing, sex, mocking each other – and cake.