Play shows too much heart for real comedy

Photo Courtesy of the Department of Theater and Dance

There’s a lot of lemonade in Northern Kentucky University’s latest production, “Crimes of the Heart.” The sour Southern staple seemed to accompany a good chunk of the dramatic comedy about three quirky Hazelhurst, Miss., sisters. They reunite after the youngest shoots her husband in the stomach because, as she says, she simply “didn’t like his looks.”

But just like the sisters’ lives, the show and the lemonade seem to run a little too tart.

The story opens right after Babe, (Emma Robertson), has shot her husband. He lives, but Babe is charged with the shooting and turns to her oldest sister Lenny Magrath, (Christine Marie Walsh) and middle sister Meg Magrath, (Brittany Sullivan) in preparation for a criminal investigation that soon reveals a sordid past.

The eccentric Babe is not the only off-balance family member. Frumpy Lenny suffers from premature old maid syndrome. After sacrificing much of her life to care for their elderly Grandaddy, she’s convinced herself at the age of 30 that no man will ever love her.

If Lenny’s love life isn’t up to par, Meg’s more than makes up for it.

She’s just returned from a failed Hollywood singing career and the audience discovers that this is the first time she’s been home since Hurricane Camille ravaged the area five years previous. She hightailed it out of Hazelhurst after her boyfriend Doc’s (Timothy Rhoades) leg was crushed in the storm. Meg is the one who convinced Doc not to evacuate. When she returns, the flames rekindle and despite her desertion after the hurricane, his new Yankee wife and two kids, Doc and Meg spend one more night together.

The Magrath sisters are a little off. But that’s hardly surprising considering that the sisters’ mother gained national attention 15 years before when she hung herself – and the cat.

There’s a lot going on in this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Beth Henley, but unfortunately the cast can’t keep up.

Walsh especially seems uncomfortable in the Southern environment. Get in touch with your Southern self, honey! Much of the cast seems to shy away from the stereotypes, but those are what make the show funny. Last time I checked, NKU was still south of the Mason-Dixon line. Dixiefied mannerisms shouldn’t be this hard to feign.

But while some of the cast struggled to find their character, Robertson let the poised, passionate and slightly crazy Babe shine. She seems perfectly comfortable with the Southern culture. Robertson’s Babe is idealistic and loving, but also selfish and indulgent.

Rhoades proved a perfect fit for the wronged and deep-feeling role of Doc, and S. Justin Terry provided many of the funniest moments with his portrayal of the awkward young lawyer, Barnette.

Switching between the many different emotions and tones of the show also proved a challenge for the cast. One minute Meg’s reading the news coverage of her sister’s crime and arrest and the next she’s laughing and running off with her old boyfriend. The nearly bi-polar, emotional flip-flops were disorienting and confusing.

While Robertson and Rhoades made seeing the show worthwhile, the rest of the production seemed to fall the way of slightly sour lemonade.

Instead of focusing on the three sisters finding strength, support and humor in each other’s lives, the production felt more like three distinct storylines that only sometimes interweave when times turned bad. Sure, the sisters share a few good times and bonding, but that little bit of sugar isn’t enough to sweeten this pitcher.