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LIGHTNING REVIEW: 'Crimes' has plenty of heart

Lisa K. Bryant and Molly McAdoo star in  'Crimes of the Heart' at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown. [PHOTO BY SCOTT TREADWAY/Treadshots] Lisa K. Bryant and Molly McAdoo star in 'Crimes of the Heart' at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown. [PHOTO BY SCOTT TREADWAY/Treadshots]

A story involving three sisters, their mother’s suicide, their grandfather’s mortal illness, a second attempted suicide, infidelity, a scandalous affair, sibling rivalry, an annoying busybody cousin, old wounds, new wounds and the despair of turning 30 with no husband is ripe for comedy, right?


You wouldn’t think so but in Crimes of the Heart comedy is the motor that propels the story on stage. Without it, you would have one depressing two-hour sentence of captivity. Thanks to the excellent cast of newcomers and veteran actors and the well-paced directing of J.J. Ruscella, the Flat Rock Playhouse production downtown manages to be both poignant and entertaining.
The Magrath sisters — Lenny, Meg and Babe —reunite in their hometown of Hazlehurst, Miss., in a torrential downpour of bad news. Their mother hung herself and her cat. Old Granddaddy, who raised the girls, is in the hospital dying. And Babe, the youngest, faces prison for shooting her husband in the stomach. (She aimed for the heart but missed.)
All the backstory has happened before the curtain goes up. Lenny (Paige Posey), the oldest, is steady and emotionally dry, an anchor for her younger sisters. Each in her own way, Meg and Babe are untethered from conventions and sometimes moral boundaries, subjugating others’ wellbeing for their own happiness and desires. The family, in fact, going way back, seems to have a way of spinning out from the straight and narrow.
Posey brings the right gravity to the role of Lenny, growing emotionally as her sisters help her see a hope for romance. Her phone call to an old beau in one of the last scenes is a delightful transformation to behold.

Mixed-up crazy, Babe is naïve and emotionally fragile but true blue to her big sisters. She tried to murder her husband, yes, but she has a kind heart toward the rest of the world. Prison, she says, would be a relief compared to life with the emotionally abusive Zackery.
Lisa K. Bryant, the artistic director who stepped from the C-suite to take on the role of Meg, blasts into the Magrath household like the hurricane (Camille) that seared the family's memory five years earlier. Setting the world indoor record for hopping up on a piece of furniture to deliver a line, Bryant brings a powerful comic energy to her portrayal of the devil-may-care middle sister.
Rounding out the cast are Brian Robinson, as Doc, a lover from Meg’s past; and Grayson Powell, as the attorney, Barnette, whose own demons of the past become entwined with Babe’s felony charge. As Chick, Ruth Pferdehirt, another newcomer, is on-target as a pushy, nosy and patronizing Southern Belle, nailing the accent, tone and mannerisms. We all know someone like her, and we’d like to shoo her out of the kitchen with a broom, too.
Given everything that has happened to the Magrath sisters and continues to happen in the course of the show, we don’t expect a happy ending. What doesn’t kill the Magrath sisters makes them stronger and draws them closer. If everything’s not wrapped in a neat bow, at least there’s birthday cake.
In Crimes of the Heart, it’s the crimes that draw us in and keep us engaged. It’s the heart that gives us hope.

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Crimes of the Heart runs through Sept. 6 at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown. Shows are 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For tickets visit flatrockplayhouse.org or call 828.693.0731.