By David Dixon | Theater Review
Director, O.P. Hadlock has quite a history with Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning black comedy, “Crimes of the Heart.” He had previously guest directed a version of the show for college students at the University of Redlands and is currently staging a new interpretation for the Lamplighters Community Theatre.
Set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1974, the story is about three sisters who reunite at their family home. Lenny (Rhiannon McAfee) and Meg MaGrath (Aline Racic) want to help their sister Babe Botrelle (Devi Noel), who shot her husband for reasons that aren’t initially explained in the show.
One reason why Hadlock is so excited for audiences to see the La Mesa production is because of the performances in the play. “I have an ideal cast,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better cast than the one I have.”
Both McAfee and Racic find their flawed characters amusing and unique.
McAfee’s goal for her performance is to not make her goodhearted and glum character too pitiful. She wants Lenny to come across as a strong person, and appear to grow stronger as the evening progresses.
Meg is just as complex of a character, which partially owes to her wild mood swings. “She has tendencies to be all over the place, due to her emotions,” Racic said. “I have to depict her changing personality, while still making her lovable in some way.”
Both performers enjoy exploring all the different aspects about the sisters, thanks to Hadlock’s direction. Racic, in particular, appreciates how prepared Hadlock has been. “He’s very organized, which I love,” she said. “I’ve never been able to compartmentalize a play the way he does.”
While Racic hasn’t acted in many plays recently, McAfee has collaborated with Hadlock numerous times over the past several years. She respects the different questions he asks his performers, including, for instance, the motivation behind characters’ actions. This can apply to something as simple as walking to another part of the stage.
What carries a lot of the plot is the loving and dysfunctional connection between the siblings.
For McAfee, one of the biggest challenges in rehearsals has been to make Lenny’s relationships with her sisters feel believable. “The other stars and I have to act like we’ve known each other for a few decades,” she said.
Hadlock also feels that the conversations can be tricky, particularly as the MaGrath clan’s discussions are sometimes tense. “They fight throughout the entire play,” he said. “Yet, there is love behind every single argument.”
Tonal shifts occur suddenly in the show with situations that range from hilarious and hopeful to intense and potentially tragic. Hadlock wants the narrative to be authentic.
The director can relate to Henley’s prose, because he has four brothers and three sisters. “When we all get together, it is a hodgepodge of emotions,” he said. “The same thing happens in this play.”
McAfee appreciates how the characters handle different situations in realistic ways. “In real life, people don’t react to things in the way that they’re supposed to,” she said. “There’s a moment where Lenny finds out that her Old Granddaddy has a stroke and she can’t stop laughing at the horrible news. When people get emotional and stressed, you react in a completely different way than people might expect.”
“Crimes of the Heart” continues to be a popular play years after premiering at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979. Hadlock says that the script is still relevant with modern audiences, because of how identifiable Henley’s storytelling is.
“All the trials, tribulations, and success of familial ties is what the show is about,” he said. “Everybody can identify with that when they see the staging.”
Audiences are in for a night that’s bound to be shocking, emotional, and very funny.
“Crimes of the Heart” is running at Lamplighters Community Theatre through Sept. 23.
— David Dixon is a theater and film freelance writer from San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.