Editor’s Note: The author of this review is a board member of Axial Theatre.
Siblings cackling over their grandpappy’s coma.
A 24-year-old bride who says she shot and wounded her wealthy, hot-shot husband because she doesn’t like his looks (and doesn’t much care for the sound of his voice, either).
A 27-year-old aspiring singer-actress who puts on airs that she’s a Hollywood rising star, even though she’s employed at a dog food company in Los Angeles.
A 30-year-old who’s been with a man but once in her life—via a Lonely Hearts Club—because a physical condition has stolen her self-confidence.
Say hello to Hazlehurst, Mississippi’s three wild and woolly Magrath sisters, victims and perpetrators of “Crimes of the Heart.” The beloved stage play and movie of that title, by Beth Henley, can be seen on weekends through May 20 in a warm, wonderfully acted and directed production at Axial Theatre in Pleasantville. Tickets can be reserved by calling 1-800-838-3006 or purchased online at brownpapertickets.com (search Axial).
For this evergreen show to weave its spell of ditzy dysfunction and heartfelt connection, the three siblings at its core—all of whom also share the drama queen gene—must be empathetic and eccentric, almost in equal measure.
The good news is that Axial has cast three highly affecting and engaging actors who succeed masterfully in bringing the Magrath clan to (larger than) life.
As 30-year-old Lenny, Catherine Banks (Ossining) is all a-flutter over, well, almost anything that confronts her. Even her birthday gives her agita. Yet, somehow, she must be the anchor for the sisters, whose father and mother left shameful legacies for their daughters to overcome. Ms. Banks, the incoming co-artistic director of Axial Theatre, is an impressively versatile actor who is in charge even as Lenny is in disarray, not an easy feat to pull off.
As 27-year-old Meg, the excellent Maria Oppedisano flaunts a skin-deep bravado that can be bullying, yet she artfully bares Meg’s delicate ego, which needs to be inflated through artifice and through attention from the opposite sex. Five years earlier, when Hurricane Camille hit Hazlehurst, Hurricane Meg not only left town, but left her lover Doc Porter (Michael E. Boyle Jr.) in the lurch. He suffered a broken leg, courtesy of Camille, and a broken heart, courtesy of love ‘em and leave ‘em Meg.
Completing the sisterly trinity is unabashed hubby-shooter Babe, played by the ebullient Julia Boyes. Babe is the ingenue, brimming with hormonal brio and naivete, which proves an intoxicating mix in the person of Ms. Boyes, whose tightly-focused performance exudes an unerring authenticity.
Babe is the archetypal Southern belle who is one chime short of being wrung out. When Babe agonizes over whether she should have called the police right after shooting her husband, instead of first making lemonade, there’s little doubt that this young woman is at the end of her rope.
Director Rachel Jones, who also is an Axial veteran actor and teacher, has family roots in Mississippi, and boy, does it show here to advantage! She has created a colorful, character-driven texture and tone for the entire production, from the nicely paced action to the acting ensemble’s combustible chemistry. Set in the deep South, the play’s sense of place is enhanced by regional accents, coached by Ms. Jones, that all are spot on.
Adding to the strong front line of principal roles is a rock-solid supporting cast.
Formidable Lori Franzese (Carmel) is a suitably rambunctious Chick, the sisters’ busybody cousin who treats them as the family’s black sheep. She’s a holier-than-thou, tough customer who speaks her mind and minds everybody’s business.
If Meg, Babe and Chick are aggressors, the play’s two men, by contrast, are written as more outwardly docile types.
Dan Walworth (South Salem) portrays Barnette Lloyd, a green but disciplined attorney who is defending Babe against charges of attempted murder of her husband, Zackery. The eligible Mr. Lloyd’s courtly manner and earnest character—which cause the newly available Babe to swoon—fit this fine actor like a bespoke suit.
In the role of Doc Porter, Meg’s ex-boyfriend who’s now a family man, Michael E. Boyle Jr.’s (Ossining) carefully calibrated performance touchingly conveys the relatable longing of lost love and dashed hopes. You can’t help but feel for him and for the universe of souls like him who forever muse about the road not traveled.
Axial Theater’s productions make ingenious use of the performance space it occupies in St. John’s Episcopal Church at 8 Sunnyside Ave., Pleasantville. For “Crimes,” the strikingly realistic set of the Magrath kitchen, by scenic designer Heather Kornreich (Mount Kisco), is highly evocative and fully functional, down to the nostalgic, white-enamel General Electric Frigidaire.
For those fond of sharp-tongued, emotion-fueled soap operas seemingly spiked with a shot or three of Southern Comfort, it would be a crime if you missed “Crimes of the Heart.”
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.