Crimes Of The Heart

Crimes Of The Heart
By Beth Henley. Adelaide Repertory Theatre, The Arts Theatre. April 8 – 17, 2021

In Crimes Of The Heart, three sisters from Mississippi are thrust together after a decade of separation. Their reunion is one of angst, as they remind themselves and each other of things they had chosen to forget.

Beth Henley’s play is dark in places, with moments of humour amongst continuous tragedy. Although initially slow to find acclaim, the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winning drama found its audience and has enjoyed high regard for more than four decades.

Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s current production of Crimes Of The Heart is intriguing, and a little unsettling. I assume deliberately. The audience is never really allowed to slip into a comfort zone. We’re all on edge for the entire show, and on the occasions when we do let our guard down (thanks to some clever humour) we are almost reprimanded immediately with confronting or uncomfortable plot progression.

The cast are exceptional. Each performance was very believable, and again, unsettling. We find ourselves caring for the characters, whilst also shaking our heads at their behaviour and lack of vision.

Georgia Stockham opens the action as Lenny, and from then on owns the production - an unwavering performance, with intense attention to detail, and thorough character absorption.

Babe, as played by Allison Scharber, is loveable but heartbreaking. Scharber has the ability to make us really care for Babe, to the point of serious concern in some scenes. Cheryl Douglas’ Meg provides some excellent contrast to her ‘sisters’, although not without her own intensity and anguish.

Deborah Proeve is perfectly horrible and obnoxious. Adam Schultz is close to nailing the old southern charm, and Steve Marvanek rounds out a well-cast ensemble.

The cast work well together, and the relationships they portray feel real and established.

I get the impression that there were more moments for comic relief in Henley’s script, but it was as if Geoff Brittain’s direction focussed overly much on this as a dark and gritty piece, at the expense of the humorous moments. We certainly could have used a few more opportunities to laugh amongst all the tragedy.

The set is brilliant, with excellent depth, great use of the space, and always something new and interesting to notice - a considerable achievement, given its static nature. A truly impressive, finished product.

Stage microphones, placed extremely discreetly, were able to pick up even the smallest sounds, making them a feature. They gave the scenes a little extra believability, allowing props and the set to be part of the action rather than just stagnant.

In fact, all the sound and audio were splendid. Carefully thought out, with excellent execution - subtle enough to ensue they’re not distracting, this would be a different production without them.

The lighting was effectively inobtrusive. In fairness, the script doesn’t lend itself to extraordinary feats of lighting brilliance.

Full of great moments, and performances, this unsettling production is well worth a look. It’s not for everyone. Not by a long shot. But for those who do appreciate the dark and disconcerting, Crimes Of The Heart ticks all the boxes.

Doug Phillips

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