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Monday, 09 May 2011 18:57

Three sisters, y'all

Written by Bob Wilcox
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I don't know what it is about a trio of sisters that fascinates playwrights, but it does. Not the least of these is the current production at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart.

Henley's from Mississippi, and so are her three sisters, the McGraths, Lenny, Meg, and Babe. Henley trades on that Southern charm, so cute and quaint, with those funny little turns of expression. But she has enough of the dark side, of the Southern Gothic, to keep the cuteness from getting cloying – a suicide, an attempted suicide, a near murder of a husband by a wife, miscegenation, spousal abuse, dirty politics, a nervous breakdown, a stroke, a shrunken ovary.

The cast at the Theatre Guild, under Dave Houghton's direction, does pretty well with their Southern attitudes and speech. But perhaps the effort to keep the magnolia-scented inflections going makes it more difficult to establish the rhythms for the scenes. I sometimes felt like they couldn't all find the same beat. That makes it hard to plumb the relationships among the characters and to build the dramatic tension in a scene.

Erin Vlasaty plays the oldest sister, Lenny, celebrating her 30th birthday and pretty much determined to sink into resigned spinsterhood. Vlasaty establishes the unhappiness but could define more clearly her character's development.

Karen Wood has the requisite energy and boldness for Meg, the second sister. She went to L.A. to be a famous singer. She's the one who had the nervous breakdown. Wood, I think, could have used more help from Charles Winning, playing a now-married former boyfriend; the two of them missed much of the richness and ambiguity possible in their reunion.

Babe, the youngest sister, has merely wounded her abusive husband. A flirt, she runs to extremes, some of them floating in space somewhere, and her childishness can irritate. Liz Haynes gets the idea but needs to project, loud and clear, what she's doing with the character. Haynes does unfold nicely the relationship she develops with her lawyer, attractively played by Andy Ruzicka.

Jadienne Nolan gets the plum farcical role of cousin Chick and makes the most of it.

Molly Houghton presents a well-designed and executed set for the McGraths' kitchen. The items on the shelves tell their own amusing tale of time and place, well selected by DeLyle Bowen and Jade Nolan. We do need to power up the Theatre Guild of Webster Grove's home to get enough light on both sides of the stage.

Shrewdly crafted by Henley, the play itself has held up well.

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