MARION — Sometimes the heart just doesn’t know what it wants.
Babe shoots without thinking, Meg returns to her wanton ways and Lenny tries to clean it all up, in “Crimes of the Heart.” Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony-nominated family drama unfolds through Sunday (8/26) at Giving Tree Theater in Marion.
Everything’s messy except Old Granddaddy’s tidy house. It’s a snapshot of the past, where Lenny is stuck after shifting roles from taking care of her little sisters following their mother’s suicide and father’s desertion, to taking care of their grandfather who now lies critically ill in the nearby hospital.
Each Magrath sister has committed a crime of the heart, but Babe, 24, is the one who could land in jail after she shoots her abusive husband, State Sen. Zackery Botrelle, in the stomach. She was aiming for his heart, but missed, in more ways than one. He survived, and even from his hospital bed, he’s trying to call the shots about his wife’s fate.
Shelby Louviere plays Babe with equal parts naivete, wide-eyed wonder and denial coursing through her veins. Everyone thought she had married well, wedded to the lawyer sister Meg calls “the richest, most powerful man in Hazlehurst, Miss.” And even though her life continues to unravel, she seems oblivious. She claims she shot him because she didn’t like his looks, and sees jail as a safe haven where she can learn to play the saxophone she recently purchased.
Middle sister Meg, 27, who went to Hollywood to seek her fortune as a singer, harbors secrets she can barely acknowledge out loud. She spins elaborate tales to Old Granddaddy, hiding the truth about her dashed dreams. She’s also the one who’s always had a bevy of beaus, and is eager to rekindle a flame, if only for an evening.
The show opens in Oct. 23, 1974, Lenny’s 30th birthday, which her family has forgotten in all the turmoil. Her first-cousin, Chick Boyle, has stopped by to catch up on the latest Babe buzz, and offhandedly presents Lenny with a birthday box of chocolates from her family. Needless to say, Lenny’s birthday is becoming a day she’d rather forget.
Dani Helmich rides Lenny’s roller coaster with her arms in the air and a silent scream, capturing the fear that comes right before the fall. Emma Drtina gives Meg enough humanity to counter her free-spirited facade. And Sara Maslowski provides the comic relief catalyst as the noisy, nosy cousin who provides the back-story on what makes the Magrath family so dysfunctional.
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Other characters show up on stage and in passing references to fill out the push and pull each sister feels.
Director Traci Rezabek and assistant director David Morton keep the action clicking at a pace fast enough to move through nearly three hours of material, without bogging down the action or sacrificing the context. Still, it feels long, so don’t sink too low into the cozy couches that are the hallmark of Giving Tree’s audience seating. Two intermissions fall logically, and let audience members stretch their legs and attention spans.
Richie Akers’ scenic and lighting design and Mic Evans’ costumes capture the ’70s vibe with care, not caricatures.
All of these thoughtful touches allow viewers to root for the sisters and embrace — or at least understand — their secret hearts.
WHAT: “Crimes of the Heart”
WHERE: Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St., Marion
WHEN: through Sunday (8/26); 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $26, box office, (319) 213-7956 or Givingtreetheater.com