One Crime, Lots of Heart

One Crime, Lots of Heart

ACO director says play is sad, funny, authentic


Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart” was an almost immediate smash when it debuted in 1979 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky. Featuring four powerhouse roles for women — always a rarity — the play went on to run for two sold-out years on Broadway and would ultimately win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. And a critically acclaimed movie version, starring Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange was released in 1986. The New York Times called Henley’s work “a little bit Chekhov and a little bit Eudora Welty.” Her ability to seamlessly weave drama and comedy into the story of the three Magrath sisters — all doomed and blessed in a variety of ways that only a southern Gothic family can be — has made the play a permanent favorite on the theater scene. It is one of the reasons director Rachel Bland suggested it be staged at the Arts Center of the Ozarks.

“ACO is growing and expanding, and one of the things they want to do is grow in their selection of plays and musicals,” says Bland. “Knowing that, and knowing they like to do family projects, I was trying to think of plays that push the boundaries while also lending themselves to community theater. This show was written in 1978, but looking at the themes of sisterhood and family — and some very deep and hard themes, as well — I thought it would be a great choice. And it transitions over to 2019 very well — even though the audience may have never seen or used a telegram, as one character in the show does, they can certainly see themselves in the themes of the play and in the characters. I thought it would be a really good fit.”

“Crimes of the Heart” tells the story of a somewhat twisted family reunion: The three Magrath sisters — Lenny, Babe and Meg — come together at the family home in Mississippi after some time apart. The catalyst for their reunion? Youngest sister, Babe, has shot her husband. Henley wrings humor from this serious situation, though, and Bland says that special blend of sweet and sour, funny and sad, is another thing that drew her to this particular play.

“I’m really attracted to plays that show real life — and life is not solely comedic or solely dramatic,” she says. “‘Crimes of the Heart’ is both of those things, because we, ourselves, are both of those things. Sometimes we’ll laugh through the tears, and sometimes we’ll be crying one minute and cutting up with each other the next. That’s how human beings work. When I see that reflected in the play so authentically and naturally, I’m attracted to it. It also explores difficult themes like suicide and abuse, but it does it in a way that is authentic and not too harsh. It allows us to look at it and confront it in a way that we can see it in ourselves. When we can do that, that’s when change starts to happen in people, and that’s a beautiful thing. But at the same time, we also laugh our way through it and enjoy it.”

A delicate balance between comedy and tragedy is not only difficult to write but is also difficult to act, as well. Bland says she’s confident that she has found a cast that is more than up for the challenge.

“I was very fortunate to have a great pool of actors show up for auditions — I could have cast this show twice over and been happy with it,” says Bland. “The cast has a wide range of experience levels — some of them have degrees in theater and some have only been doing theater for a year — but the talent they all bring is amazing to work with. They’ve met every challenge I’ve brought to them. We’ve been doing character work where we fully dive into these characters until we understand them as well as we understand ourselves.”



‘Crimes of the Heart’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-19; 3 p.m. Oct. 20

WHERE — Arts Center of the Ozarks, 214 S. Main St., Springdale

COST — $25

INFO — 751-5441

Categories: Theater