Roundabout Theatre Company is presenting the film and stage star Kathleen Turner making her New York directing debut with a confident, yet flawed production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Crimes of the Heart”. Ms.Turner’s staging bears her broad signature style, and while she has a talented ensemble doing her bidding, little about the evening feels organic. Much is quite funny, even touching, but the over the top approach does little to serve the playwright, turning her poignant character study into a superficial re-telling that accentuates the play’s shortcomings.
“Crimes of the Heart” set in 1974 Hazelhurst, Mississippi is a bitter sweet story about the Magrath sisters, Lenny, Meg, and Babe (Jennifer Dundas, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe), who have been deeply damaged by the suicide of their mother. She hung herself, along with their old yellow cat many years earlier. And Meg, the middle sister, found their mother’s lifeless body along with the cat hanging side by side. Considered to be the black sheep of the family, Meg left home five years ago after Hurricane Camille with hopes for a singing career. Lenny, the caretaker of the three, wires Meg to return home because of a family emergency. But she does not mention Babe has been hauled off to jail for shooting her husband. When the sisters reunite at Old Granddaddy’s house, the tattered bonds of their sisterhood will be sorely tested.
Henley’s poignant writing is often infused with heartbreak. But Ms. Turner’s first time directorial effort misses the key ingredient, “the ties that bind.” You never feel the underbelly of their family tragedy. And that is most unfortunate, because Henley has drawn finely nuanced characterizations of these southern sisters. There is a ring of authenticity that can be compelling. But Turner’s one noted approach lacks the depth to reveal the pathos rendering the evening more sentimental than moving.
Amongst the actresses Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson manage to steer clear of caricature. The other women take full flight into playing extreme qualities which diminishes the appeal of the story. The core of “Crimes of the Heart” is the bond of these imperfect women to survive together no matter what and to have “a good ole time” in the process. Without that center the actors come across as marionettes missing needed heart.
Her gifted cast is always entertaining, especially when overacting, but the fussy behavior takes us out of the drama instead engaging us in the unfolding action. The result is a series of stops and starts instead of a forceful accumulation of details and events. Turner’s evening is built on sand as opposed to the truth and the portrait of the Magrath sisters’ indomitable spirit is more sweet than convincing.
Downtown the LAByrinth Theater Company, now in residence at the Public Theater, is presenting the world premiere of Brett C. Leonard’s “Unconditional” a brutal depiction of nine New York stories charged with themes of race, sex, drugs, love, justice, and betrayal. Director Mark Wing-Davey has explosively staged the violent drama for maximum effect. Under his skillful guidance, the cinematic like tale, which is told in brief shocking, overlapping scenes, begins to add up to much more than is actually on the page. Wing-Davey’s powerful production unfolds on Mark Wendland’s innovative shifting set, where audience members view from all sides at different heights looking down at the action. “Unconditional” closes March 9th, for tickets call 212-967-7555.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
“Crimes of the Heart” opened on February 14, 2008 at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Tickets are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.Roundaboutheatre.org" www.Roundaboutheatre.org or at the box office.