No human feelings cut so close to the heart as those engendered by the relationships within a family. Romantic love, intense as it can be, takes a backseat to the emotions stirred up by siblings-bonds formed from birth always take precedence, especially in Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart. Three sisters, each attempting to exorcize her own demons, meet for the first time in two years, and suddenly revert to the people they have always been, but sometimes forgotten. They may squabble, accuse, and generally disagree, but when an outside threat appears, they form a unit. This unity is their strength, and the power of the play stems from it.
The setting is a small town in Mississippi, and set designer Mike Vogel and director Jennifer Shepherd have marvelously imagined the details of a country kitchen and its inhabitants. Such attention to nuance and detail brings out the best in the actors. As a result, there are moments during the play when the audience almost feels like intruders, witnessing something too private for comfort.
Lenny (Anne Burridge), the eldest sister, is undersexed and overworked. Ironically, it is her family, a prim cousin (Dalina Michaels) and overbearing grandfather, who sap her strength and make her doubt her own intentions. Only when the youngest sister (Melissa Rose Ziemer) comes home on bail after shooting her husband, and the middle sister Meg (Heather Heyerdahl) returns unexpectedly from California, can Lenny begin to focus her energy. Only together with her sisters can she be an individual.
The relationship between the three is poignant and often hilarious, as they criticize and berate one another for slights and injuries committed in childhood. Meg had been too self-absorbed, taking one bite from each of Lenny’s chocolates; Babe, the youngest, had more jingle bells sown on her petticoats than the other two. Besides these relatively light instances of sibling rivalry, there are darker currents. The sisters, it turns out, are not merely neurotic, but genuinely damaged. As the sisters confront their pasts, they use humor to turn the sometimes tragic situations into something else, and they grow.
Although there are problems left unresolved, lovers left behind, and unhappiness aplenty, the end of Crimes of the Heart is perfectly satisfying. The lives of these three small-town girls are unfinished, and hence, still full of hope.