Crimes of the Heart comes to Princeton’s McCarter Theater March 8 – 27, 2011. Playwright Beth Henley won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for drama while Crimes of the Heart was still off-Broadway, making it the first play ever to win before opening on Broadway. I’ve never seen this play or movie about a Southern family of three sisters gathering at their grandfather’s home where they have grown up, to support the youngest sister. They have had their mother’s suicide hanging over them, which has been a major embarrassment to their cousin Chick, and their father had abandoned them, leaving the grandparents to raise them.
Each sister has her own issues. The eldest, Lenny MaGrath (Molly Camp, left), is uptight and infertile. The play opens with her celebrating her 30th birthday. The middle sister, Meg MaGrath (Georgia Cohen, middle), is self-centered and known for her indiscretions with men, and has returned from her failing Hollywood career to rally around the youngest sister. Babe Botrelle (Mary Bacon, right), is the baby of the bunch, and has just been released from jail after being accused of shooting her husband, who is a state senator.
Considering this piece is filled with attempted murder, low self-esteem, an interracial affair, broken dreams, abandonment, domestic violence, jealousy, and delinquency of a minor, Crimes of the Heart is told with a humorous twist. I decided to watch the movie after seeing the play to have a comparison. The scripts were close, but the personalities and direction differed a bit. I actually found the play funnier, and since there was only one set at McCarter, Liesl Tommy, who directed this piece, did an amazing job at keeping true to the work with this limitation. And speaking of the set, part of an entire house has been built on stage for McCarter. The upper half was the exterior, and the lower half was the interior of a 1950s or 60s kitchen (the sisters wore clothing from the 60s or 70s). The play was broken into three acts and ran just over two and a half hours including the two intermissions.
Molly Camp was brilliant as Lenny, showing a bit more anxiety than Diane Keaton in the movie. Georgia Cohen played Meg very well, with a bit more feistiness than Jessica Lange, and Mary Bacon displayed more innocence than Sissy Spacek, and was very expressive. Dare I even say that I preferred the McCarter production over the movie? I even liked the supporting roles more. Brenda Withers as Chick Boyle was fantastic as a condescending and judgmental first cousin, Dustin Ingram played Babe’s attorney Barnette Lloyd, (who had a vendetta for her husband) convincingly as a young attorney with little experience, yet wasn’t a pushover, and Lucas Van Engen was great as the limping, married Doc Porter, who somehow still had feelings for Meg after she left him. Check out the wonderful cast and crew here.
I highly recommend this production. It’s longer than some other plays, but it’s well worth it! If like me, you haven’t seen the movie yet, you’ll be in for a treat, and if you liked the movie, you’ll love McCarter’s production of Crimes of the Heart!