Crimes of the Heart – a triumph for the Phoenix!

Sheila Martindale reviews UVic’s Crimes of the Heart

By Sheila Martindale

Peter McGuire, the Director of Crimes of the Heart, noted that this particular play was close to his heart, since he grew up with five sisters, and therefore knew quite a lot about women’s emotions. He also mentioned how important casting is, and how pleased he was with the women he had selected to play the four strong female roles – how much he had learned from them.

Indeed, this particular piece of theatre is cogent and illuminating. We begin with Lenny, celebrating her 30th birthday more or less alone, despite the comings and goings of her two sisters and her bossy cousin. Sophie Chappell, as Lenny, is quite brilliant – she is the girl who stayed home to care for her aging grandfather, currently in hospital and not doing well. The camp bed set up on stage is a reminder of his presence in her life, even though we never see him.

Her sister Meg, a (possibly failed) singer has reluctantly come home, complete with cigarettes, booze, and an attitude. Sarah Jean Valiquette is well suited to this vamp-ish character, and we silently applaud her devil-may-care approach to life.

The youngest sister, Babe, played by Lucy Sharples, has just shot her abusive husband, but he is still alive – another male character defined by his absence from the stage. Babe is sweet and charming, obviously in the wrong marriage, and delightfully unaware of the serious consequences she might face – evidenced by ‘making a jug of lemonade’ when asked about the events after the shooting. A difficult part, deftly handled.

The bossy cousin (Chick, loud and rude, well played by Mary Van Den Bossche) storms on and off the stage, leaving behind the rumbles of an earthquake when she exits.

The two males who actually appear, Duncan Alexander as Babe’s young and inexperienced lawyer, and Sheldon Graham, who plays Doc Porter, an old flame of Meg, are minor but key characters; both are well portrayed.

Crimes of the Heart takes place the 1970s, but has a fresh relevance today in this somewhat changed world we live in. The set, by Stefanie Mudry) is perfect to the last detail of the period. Madeline Lee’s costumes are also right on. The play will surely touch the heart of anyone with a family, or an annoying female relative. It reveals the fact that the family is stronger than the sum of its parts; we relate to the characters, and feel sympathy, or frustration with all the ups and downs of the various individuals. I think the playwright, Beth Henley, would approve.

Crimes of the Heart runs at the Phoenix until February 24. Don’t miss it! Call 250-721-8000 for tickets.

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