Return to the '70s, return to the South

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By Doug Deuchler

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There's a top-notch production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley mounted by Concordia University at the Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison St., in Oak Park.

 The warm and often outrageously funny play, set in a small town in Mississippi in 1974, presents a small family reunion of three quirky southern sisters responding to a crisis. Director Stephanie Stroud has assembled a talented young cast and solid crew, creating an enjoyable production about sisterhood and family ties that's equally tragic and goofy. 

 Stroud's female actors sink their teeth into their wacky, poignant roles.

 Lenny Magrath, the tender sad-sack center of the family and the one still at home, is played by Alison Nichols. She's the care-giver of their elderly grandfather, and perhaps she's still a virgin. Lenny's grown bitter from cleaning up her sisters' messes. They seem to have forgotten today is her 30th birthday. In her opening scene pity party she sings "Happy Birthday" to herself in front of a cookie with a candle mounted on it. The actress reveals her suppressed anger and resentments.

 Maddy Beezie portrays the youngest of the trio, dim-witted, sugar-addicted, child-like Babe Magrath. Babe has been released on bail after shooting her abusive lawyer husband in the stomach because she says she didn't like his looks. She did not manage to kill the pompous bully but the incident caused enough commotion to bring home Meg, the middle sister, who lives in Hollywood pursuing a singing career.

 Merrick McWherter portrays Meg, an impulsive, irresponsible free spirit. She'd left home to pursue stardom but her recording career "won't get off its legs." Self-absorbed Meg is both glamorous and self-destructive. 

 Each of the Magrath sisters is lonely in her own way. 

 The sisters talk over each other like real siblings. And like many actual sisters, they are hugging one moment and bickering the next. 

 Their pushy, social-climbing, busy-body first cousin, is played by Morgan Schussler-Williams. She never lets Lenny forget her mother committed suicide, along with the family cat. 

 This is one of those small towns where everyone seems to know everyone else's business.

 Eamon Gonzales plays solid and centered Doc Porter, who is not a doctor. He still carries a torch for Meg though she abandoned him long ago and he's now married to a "Yankee woman" and has a couple of kids. The character is deprived of any comic lines. Playwright Henley does not seen as interested in her male characters.

 A lawyer, Barnette Lloyd, is portrayed by Juan Ortega. He's Babe's knight-in-shining armor though he is more strongly driven by a personal vendetta against Babe's wounded husband than romance.

 The beautifully detailed set, designed by Christina Leinicke, is a lived-in, fully functioning kitchen. The sink and refrigerator clearly work. There's the typical yellow 1970s phone on the wall. Leinicke also created the costumes, perfectly reflecting the not-so-stylish '70s.

 The three-act production lasts 2 hours, 30 minutes with two 15-minute intermissions. 

 Crimes of the Heart is a fun and fascinating backwards glance at '70s feminist playwriting. Nearly four decades have not dimmed Henley's script about a darkly comic dysfunctional southern family.

 Three performances remain this weekend: Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25, at 7:30 p. m., and a Sunday matinee on Feb. 26 at 2 p. m. Tickets cost $15 with discounts available for students and seniors.

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Sharon Harvey from Manassas  

Posted: February 24th, 2017 7:29 AM

Well done Alison Nichols

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