Playwright and SMU grad Beth Henley won a Pulitzer for her 1981 Southern gothic comedy Crimes of the Heart. Interesting to note that the 1981 Pulitzer for fiction went to John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. It was a good year for literature about idiots in Dixie.
Crimes, now running at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, has its own cast of dunce characters in the siblings who've come back to the family home in Mississippi to help out the sister who's just shot her husband "because she didn't like his looks." Out on bail, Babe (played by Jenae Yeager-Glanton) behaves like a low-IQ child who doesn't realize she's in deep, deep dooky for pumping bullets into her spouse and then taking time to make lemonade before calling an ambulance.
Sister Lenny (Diane Casey Box) lives in the rundown family homestead, the same house where the girls' mother hanged herself (and the family cat) years before. Lenny's the harried caretaker, the one rushing to the hospital to look after "Old Granddaddy." She's also a disaster with romance, and, by the looks of this production, hopeless at choosing her own clothes. (Wardrobe by Kaori Imai is ugly and unflattering on each of the women.)
Third sister Meg (Marianne Galloway, giving the only performance that doesn't make one's teeth itch) set out for Hollywood seeking stardom and returns world-weary and probably alcoholic.
Cousin Chick (Whitney Holotik, who took over the role after CTD found Sue Loncar dropped out) lives next door; just close enough to be a nasty nosy parker. Her scenes are supposed to be hilarious. Here, they're merely annoying interruptions.
There are men in this play, too, though neither makes much of an impression. Babe's lawyer Barnette (John Brumley) is a nervous Don Knotts type. Doc Porter (Dan Burkharth) once had a fling with Meg. Now he's married to someone else but still comes sniffing around when he hears Meg's back in town. He's creepy. Or maybe it's just the way Burkharth plays him.
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Director Cynthia Hestand has allowed some egregiously phony Southern accents to happen, and she's missed some of the built-in jokes in the play. Actors sit at the set's kitchen table, droning along for two long hours as though the audience doesn't exist. It's all inert and uninteresting.
This play, over-produced around these parts, hasn't withstood the test of time. It's creaky now. And just odd to see how Henley portrayed grown-ups in the early 1980s. Women this idiotic would be held for psychiatric evaluations now. And the one who shot her husband? She'd be doing hard time and be the subject of an episode of Snapped.
Crimes of the Heart continues through July 15 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Call 214-828-0094.