Theatre Is Easy: “Crimes of the Heart”

Written by Theatre Is Easy

BOTTOM LINE: It’s a chick flick on stage, so dudes might not be interested. A good choice for a girls’ night out.

Crimes of the Heart is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that was written in the early ’80s and turned into an Oscar-winning film in 1986. The story has a very “American” feel; this is probably supported by the fact that it’s set in the Deep South and everyone speaks with thick Mississippi accents. Here’s the story: three sisters with a dysfunctional past come together when the youngest sister shoots her husband. Requisite drama ensues because wild-child middle sister Meg doesn’t see eye to eye with eldest sister Lenny, and also because unstable upbringings make for good conflict later in life. It’s a dark comedy, but not nearly as depressing as it sounds.

Crimes of the Heart has all the components that make for good girly escapism: the three main characters are females aged 24-30; it’s somewhat relatable, with ample family drama and sibling rivalry; there are love interests and a tryst; and the two guys in the play are hunky enough. Luckily, though, Crimes of the Heart is written with such insight and nuance that it substantiates a story line fit for a soap opera. It never feels frivolous.

The cast is really good, especially Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Jennifer Dundas as the three sisters. A dynamic pace is instantly set between these three and they work hard to maintain the pace throughout the play. They’re all seasoned actors, and it’s apparent they know what they’re doing. Technically speaking, the production is great, as is most work from Roundabout Theatre Company. The set is perfectly appropriate for a home in rural Mississippi in 1974, and though the script is wordy at times, the direction keeps it all gently moving along. It should be noted that this revival of Crimes of the Heart is directed by Kathleen Turner, in her directorial debut.

The original production of Crimes of the Heart opened in 1981. I have to assume the story was more provocative then than it happens to be today. It certainly still holds because it’s set in 1974 and it’s a very human story, but I feel like audiences today are much more desensitized than they were a couple of decades ago. The conflict in the plot is no doubt dramatic, but it’s much more palatable than many of the dysfunctional black comedies that have recently been produced. This doesn’t negate the narrative — it just helps to ground it in the time frame in which it’s set.

If you’re under 35, check out Crimes of the Heart for only $20 as part of Roundabout’s Hiptix program; it’s a steal for this caliber of theatre. If you’re paying full price for a ticket, make sure you’re in it for an enjoyable and easily digestible story rather than anything poignant or esoteric.

Crimes of the Heart plays at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Through April 20: Tue-Sat 7:30 PM, and Wed, Sat, and Sun 2 PM. For tickets call 212-719-1300 or visit roundabouttheatre.com.

Check out theatreiseasy.com for more reviews and info about the New York theatre scene.