Dark comedy of family dysfunction in ‘Crimes of the Heart’ at Colonial Players

High stakes, family drama, irony, and a dash of humor are all benchmarks for a fun night of entertainment. Colonial Players of Annapolis’ production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart, which won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, hits all of these marks.

A recurring theme of this show is women having a “bad day.” The play is set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in October 1974. The show follows the lives of the three Magrath sisters, Lenny, Meg, and Babe; they have reunited at their family home in Mississippi after Babe, the youngest sister, shot her abusive husband after he caught her with a teenage lover.

Kat Binney (Meg), Megan Henderson (Babe), and Emily Roberge (Lenny) appearing in ‘Crimes of the Heart.’ Publicity photo by Brandon Bentley.

Robin Schwartz’s direction of Crimes of the Heart resulted in praiseworthy performances from all the actors. Lenny, played by Emily Roberge, brought a frantic sense of anxiety to her role as the eldest sister. Meg, played by Kat Binney (recently seen in One Slight Hitch), was a mix of touching and sultry as the troubled middle sister, bringing complexity to her mentally troubled character. And as the impulsive youngest sister, Babe, Megan Henderson, was marvelous. She gave her character a childlike vulnerability.

Meg, an aspiring singer, was the type of young woman who had had “too many” men. She still yearned for old flame Doc. Meg hated that Doc was married to Joan, “a Yankee.” One night in 1969, Meg and Doc weathered Hurricane Camille together, but Doc’s life was never quite the same after. Dylan Roche, who is also a novelist, turned in a memorable performance as Doc Porter, especially in his scenes with Binney.

Lenny, who celebrated 30 years of age at the opening curtain, displayed a frantic and somewhat neurotic demeanor throughout the story. Babe often acted like her namesake — simpleminded and fragile under the stress of the criminal charge she faced. Babe’s lawyer was played — with a spot-on Southern accent — by the delightfully talented Kyle Hartford.

The annoying and judgmental Magrath cousin Chick Boyle was played on opening night by Ellen Quay. (The COVID-19 standby for Chick is actor Shannon Benil.) Quay, in her Colonial Players debut, is an accomplished voiceover artist.

So many off-stage characters loom large over the play, including the Magrath sisters’ late mother (who met a tragic end), their sick Old Granddaddy, Zachary Botrelle (Babe’s husband), Lenny’s old flame, and Willie Jay, Babe’s Black, 15-year-old lover. The racial bits of the plot raised questions for me. I wondered whatever became of Willie Jay. The answer to that question could be a play unto itself. Did he head north to, say, Chicago? You could write a ’70s sitcom based on his fish-out-of-water story.

Clockwise from left: Megan Henderson (Babe) and Kyle Hartford (Barnette Lloyd); Kat Binney (Meg) and Dylan Roche (Doc Porter); and Emily Roberge (Lenny) appearing in ‘Crimes of the Heart.’ Publicity photos by Brandon Bentley.

This is a play with a lot of character “business.” I liked, for example, when Lenny was making lemonade and attempting to make a birthday cake out of a cookie. I liked how the intermission music was the same as the practical on-set music on the radio, thanks to Sound Designer David Cooper

I liked Meg’s bell bottom jeans and groovy leather vest and Barnette Lloyd’s white shoes. Linda Ridge’s costume design was on point.

The set design by Heather Quinn was also worth mentioning because it helped show the mood and atmosphere of the play. The cozy and cluttered family home was a character in itself, with set pieces like an old refrigerator, a ’70s-style rotary phone, and various kitchen utensils provided by Properties Designer Constance Robinson.

Crimes of the Heart is a masterfully staged and beautifully performed show that is both funny and sad. This production shows how theater has always been able to tell stories that people can relate to and that make them feel something. Don’t receive a “citation” for missing Crimes of the Heart.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Crimes of the Heart plays through January 28, 2023, presented by Colonial Players of Annapolis performing at the East Street Theatre, 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. Performances are also available for online live streaming. For tickets ($23 for adults; $18 for 65+, full-time students, and active military), call the box office at 410-268-7373 or purchase online.

The playbill for Crimes of the Heart is online here.

COVID Safety: Face masks will be required for all patrons at all times at the performances Sunday, January 22, and Friday, January 27. Face masks are optional but strongly encouraged for all other performances. In the event that the CDC rating for Anne Arundel County is “High,” masks will be required for all audiences.

Crimes of the Heart
Written by Beth Henley
Directed by Robin Schwartz
Produced by Jennifer Cooper

CAST
Babe Botrelle: Megan Henderson
Meg Magrath: Kat Binney
Lenny Magrath: Emily Roberge
Barnette Lloyd: Kyle Hartford
Doc Porter: Dylan Roche
Chick Boyle: Ellen Quay/Shannon Benil

ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Robin Schwartz
Costume Designer: Linda Ridge
Sound Designer: David Cooper
Sound Designer/Production Assistant: Chase Nester
Set Designer: Heather Quinn
Properties Designer: Constance Robinson