Let's pop in and visit with an old friend. Time was you couldn't swing a dead cat in this city without hitting a local production of Beth Henley's tragicomedy Crimes of the Heart. Not only does it feature a small cast and one set (enough to secure it a place in the heart of any theater company), but it comes with an impressive provenance: a host of theatrical awards, including the 1981 Pulitzer Prize. It's a funny, sweet show about three Mississippi sisters living through what one of them describes as a "very bad day."
For years on end, Henley's brand of Southern-fried melancholy used to appear at local theaters at least twice a year. Considering that Crimes was also turned into a popular movie ... well, it's no surprise I've spent a lot of time with Lenny, Meg and Babe MaGrath.
But lately the show is so rarely staged that this latest production, at Little Lake Theatre, will probably be a lot of people's first exposure to it. I wouldn't call this a definitive version, however.
Director Sunny Disney-Fitchett and her company stage what is certainly the fastest production of Crimes of the Heart on record. Regular readers will know that lethargic, leaden-paced productions are the cause of these fetching bags under my eyes. So the speed isn't the problem.
Fast is good! As long as subtext and nuance don't get lost in the shuffle — which, unfortunately, they do here. Henley's writing is tricky; there's a lot more going on underneath than is visible to the naked eye. But for the most part, director and cast blow right past the interior of the play.
Jena Oberg, as Lenny, comes closest to giving voice to the sugared sourness informing Henley's writing: We get a real sense of the sadness and risk her character is battling. Deborah Bender and Lily Junker, playing Meg and Babe, certainly can't be faulted for a lack of enthusiasm (or volume) in their portrayals.
Just to be clear: This is by no means a bad production. But Crimes of the Heart has a lot more resonance. Believe me: I've seen it enough to know.