by Shirley Lorraine
Crimes of the Heart sizzles
Be prepared to laugh, to identify and to sympathize with the quirky characters in Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Crimes of the Heart, now onstage at Oxnard’s Elite Theatre. As their 2019 season themed “Family” continues, the production brings forward multiple areas of dysfunction while at the same time focuses on the importance and innate bonds of the family unit.
The scene is 1974, Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Three sisters with quite different viewpoints on life who are struggling through their own personal crises come together because granddaddy is in the hospital. Their troubled family history unites them at the core despite their differences.
Lenny (Genevieve Levin), a spinster of low self-esteem, is holding down the fort caring for granddaddy’s house and affairs. She is the logical one of the three. She anxiously awaits the arrival of sister Meg (Dawn Michelle), who had left the fold to seek a future as a singer. Alas, things didn’t quite work out for her. She copes by acting out, maintaining the hippie style of the 70’s with panache.
Both lament the fact that little sister Becky “Babe” (Samantha Netzen Bingham) has just blithely admitted to shooting her husband in the stomach (poor aim) because she didn’t like the sound of his voice. Now out on bail, Babe is handed legal representation by Barnette Lloyd (Patrick R. Rogers), a recent law school graduate clearly in over his head. He is smitten with Babe, which makes handling her case challenging.
Cousin Chick Boyle (Kimberly Prendergast) holds a consistently negative view of all the sisters but feels the need to be overtly involved for granddaddy’s sake. How the sisters each deal with Chick in their own way adds to the dimension of the character.
Doc Porter (Eric R. Umali, who also designed the set) reenters Meg’s life even though he is now married. Although their romance ended on a poor note years before, both harbor unresolved attraction destined to get them in trouble.
Many in the cast are new to the Elite Theatre stage, although the entire cast is certainly not new to many Ventura County theaters. Director Jolyn Johnson’s choice of this highly seasoned cast makes Crimes of the Heart sizzle with Southern flair.
The various life situations, as outrageous as they are, bear many similarities for everyone to identify with. How the sisters cope (or not) results in tears of recognition and laughter despite the underlying serious elements.
It is not unusual to dissolve into laughter as a method of coping with difficult times in our lives. One scene in the second act, when granddaddy falls into a coma, is contagiously hilarious.
The play does involve the use of herbal cigarettes so patrons who may be sensitive to that are encouraged to sit further back in the 70-seat theater. A fan and open doors at intermission help dispel the fragrance quickly. As the situations portrayed are decidedly “adult”, parental discretion is advised.
Crimes of the Heart continues through May 12 (bring mom on Mother’s Day!) with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $17 for students, seniors and military, $12 for under 12. www.elitetheatre.org or (805) 483-5118.