San Diego State’s production of “Crimes of the Heart” is another one of those shows that is hard to categorize. It combines elements of drama, wit and mystery to tell a wickedly entertaining story.
Taking place in Hazelhurst, Miss., in 1974, the plot is about three very different sisters who meet up at their family home. Lenny (Monique Hanson) and Meg MaGrath (Jessica Christman) try to help their younger sister, Babe MaGrath Botrelle (Allie Boettcher), who has shot her husband for unclear reasons.
Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning script is a smartly written black comedy. Sometimes the humor is beyond quirky, which is actually a good thing. At other moments, the laughs feel authentic when the family is at its most comedically dysfunctional.
Henley’s writing also has an endless amount of twists. The big revelations don’t only come as a shock, but they also add depth to the main characters.
It was a wise choice to stage “Crimes of the Heart” in the Experimental Theatre. The action takes place in a house and director Carolyn Keith keeps things intimate, even when grand emotions are expressed from the cast.
Hanson gives what might be the most relatable performance as the oldest sister. Her character Lenny is very sympathetic, trying as best as she can to connect with her siblings, though her sensitive personality sometimes keeps her from doing so.
Christman has many explosively intense scenes as Meg, a hot-tempered woman who is not living up to her true potential as a singer. Instead, she has a thankless job working for a dog-food company. The actress doesn’t sugarcoat Meg’s aggressive nature, and Christman is so convincing that her interpretation is a memorable one.
Hanson and Christman work so well together in their early moments onstage, it made me wonder if the performer playing Babe could possibly be on the same level. Boettcher rises to the occasion by creating an extraordinary depiction of a young wife whose violent actions might be unjustified.
Babe shows a range of completely different emotional states ranging from extreme sadness to bright happiness as she faces the aftermath of the crime she committed. Babe’s comedic timing is impeccable and she delivers many twistedly dark one-liners with a sunny attitude, which makes the laughs more authentic.
There is also a strong ensemble featuring Ana Krieg, Ryan Sandvick and Shane Allen. While none of them are highlighted anywhere near the extent as the stars, they all have at least a few moments to shine whenever they appear.
Credit for the powerful and fun characters should go to Keith, who has directed other superbly acted plays in the recent past, including “Eurydice” and “Doubt.” Once again, she makes sure that the cast is made up of distinct entertainers, which results in a haunting experience.
If you haven’t seen “Crimes of the Heart,” buy tickets as soon as possible to enjoy the unique personal journeys of the MaGraths. The evening is one wild ride.
Tickets and information about “Crimes of the Heart” can be found at theatre.sdsu.edu.