Theater Notes: ‘Crimes of the Heart’ as alive, dazzling as past productions
The Theater Laboratory, off of Second Street in downtown Fort Myers, is one of my favorite places to see live theater. Artistic Director Annette Trossbach has given us some fine and courageous plays year after year. I look back at productions of “Death of a Salesman,” “Cabaret,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “Burn This” to name just a few. The loyalty of wonderful actors who are deeply committed to community theater is one of the delights at The Lab. The players all have day jobs but come to rehearse for a few weeks after work and then deliver powerful plays.
And now, there is their newest “must see” – Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart.” It only runs with a final matinee until Jan. 21. I urge you to get tickets fast because it is that good and word-of-mouth will lead to sell out performances.
The play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. In 1986, it ran on Broadway for two years, where it also won the New York Drama Critics Award.
I have seen it at least three times before. I saw Holly Hunter in her Broadway debut. They did it at Smith College one semester, and I so remember taking two pre-teens for whom I got seats in the front row, and they sat there glued in to the marvelous shenanigans of the play as it was presented at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in August 2007, directed by Kathleen Turner.
Well, I’m convinced this production at Theater Lab is every bit as alive and dazzling as any of the above. “Crimes of the Heart” is about three sisters and a gossipy noisy cousin. They are all quite unalike. They reunite when the youngest of them, Babe, played beautifully by Holly Wilson, has just shot her husband. The plot thickens.
It has a wonderful cast, and the play is shrewdly directed by Paul Graffy. It takes place in Mississippi, but, thank goodness, even Equity actors can’t do southern accents.
The oldest sister, Lenny, played skillfully by Lucy Sundby, is stuck with caring for their grandfather and is turning into an old maid. Meg is the fireball wild sister, and Danielle Channell does her to the hilt as we learn how she tried to make it in Hollywood as a singer/actress. Their reunion has many heart-touching moments, but it gets complicated – oh my, does it get complicated.
I confess to crying many times that night because it was all performed so well that we were totally involved. The odd ball cousin, played by Kayleigh O’Connell, was welcome comic relief and wildly over the top. There were two men in the cast and each added so much to the power and impact of the play. Hats off to Marshall Prater and Justin Larsche.
Take a widely-recognized prize-winning play and give it a cast of devoted community theater veterans, plus directed masterfully, and you get what Theater Lab does best. Brave theater done right. That’s why it’s a must-see on my list. Hurry, you all – call that box office fast at 239-218-0481 or visit www.laboratorytheaterflorida.com.
The Theater Laboratory is at 1634 Woodford Ave., Fort Myers.