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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Intimate tale of 3 sisters finds supportive audience

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

 •  'Crimes of the Heart'

8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday

Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

$12 — $4; 956-7655

Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart" ultimately wins us over because of the honest, comic craziness of its central characters. That, along with its "kitchen table" realism and the emergence of Henley as a regional voice in American theater, helped it win the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

Its revival at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa is well cast and neatly staged by director Glenn Cannon, and the young performers turn in an excellent example of ensemble work. The large stage and vast Kennedy Theatre auditorium, however, compromise the intimacy of the six-character piece. One might wish for a smaller space where Henley's blunt and occasionally raw dialogue would play as shared intimacies, rather than as ham-handed exposition.

Realistic acting is the center of this production, and, without exception, the performers project from deep inside their characters.

Like its Chekhovian predecessor, the realism in this piece is built on the relationships among three sisters. But unlike Chekhov's women, who quietly long for another life, Henley's characters reach out and grab for it, fall down, skin their knees and grab again.

The central figure is Babe, the youngest and only married sister. At age 24, she has just shot her husband of six years through the stomach because she "didn't like his looks." It doesn't help that he's the most prominent lawyer in this small Mississippi town, and that he has incriminating photographs of Babe having sex in the garage with a black teenager.

Lauren Marie Kepa'a plays Babe with the Peter Pan nonchalance of a little girl who never grew up. Perched on a kitchen chair, her feet still don't touch the floor as she pours extra sugar into her lemonade and affirms that her marriage has been six years of spousal abuse.

Middle sister Meg uses the incident as a reason to fly home from Los Angeles, where her career as an actress and singer has never taken hold. Meg has spent her life obliviously taking anything she liked, and on this trip the prizes range from a box of someone else's birthday chocolates to an old boyfriend — now someone else's husband.

Amy Joy Matsen makes us like the character despite her self-centeredness, playing the absence of consideration for others like a genetic deficiency rather than a character flaw. As a result, her Meg becomes a delight to visit, but a horror to live with.

The action takes place in the women's childhood home, where eldest sister Lenny has been sleeping in the kitchen to watch over their ailing grandfather.

Natalie McKinney connects with the character's resiliency to keep her depressed, but not depressing. We want Lenny to succeed and delight in each of her small steps toward confidence.

As the play moves through its 24-hour clock, the audience becomes a cheering section for each of the women, celebrating their insights and personal successes.

Two male supporting roles are equally well done. Scot Davis turns in a sweetly shambling and down-home characterization of Meg's former boyfriend and Jeremy Pippin is a believably spunky rival lawyer.

With Henley as a guide, "Crimes of the Heart" becomes a visit to a small town, making each moment a cause for surprise and delight.

Correction: There are six characters in the play "Crimes of the Heart," including the character Chick Boyle, played by Rasa Fournier. A previous version of this review contained incorrect information.