Southern sisters in 'Crimes of the Heart,' playing in Ben Lomond's Park Hall.

Lenny Magrath is having a bad day. Her youngest sister Babe is suspected of attempted manslaughter, her grandfather is in the hospital and, as an unmarried Southern belle, she’s less than thrilled about turning 30. But Crimes of the Heart isn’t all about Lenny.

Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1981 play, currently showing at the Mountain Community Theater in Ben Lomond as part of its 30th anniversary season, soon spirals away from lonely Lenny (McKenzie Brock) into a larger vortex of despair and deceit as the focus shifts to younger siblings Meg (Shannon Marie Kerr) and Babe (Jocelyn McMahon).

Meg, the egocentric middle sister just back from a long stint in California, seems more concerned with trying to rekindle an old love affair or lying about her failed music career than consoling her two sisters. She’s back after news of their grandfather’s ailing health and Babe’s catastrophic marriage woes (“I just didn’t like his stinking looks,” Babe explains after gut-shooting her abusive husband Zackery). Meg is excited to see Doc Porter, a man she dated and left years ago before he married a Yankee and started a family of his own. Her lingering desire creates an uncomfortable situation, but that isn’t the most pressing intimacy problem in the play; each sister brings her own train-wreck tendencies to the table.

The play is high in emotional intensity—with yelling, crying and a heavy dose of familial tension. The cast does a decent job, with a particularly strong performance from Kerr, who really does seem like she just got off a flight from Los Angeles to Mississippi.

Where Crimes’ character development soars, particularly in the second act, its plot honestly does not. In a way, Crimes of the Heart doesn’t even really end. It just finishes. The fascinating family chaos that comes to a climax in the second act almost disappears during the third in a transition that feels deceptive, given that so many problems have recently come to light.

Still, the production contains fascinating character portraits of a troubled family searching for its soul and a little sense of humor. The play and its Southern drawls have all the charm of a fresh-baked pecan pie. Who better to pull off that charm than a tiny theater company in the Santa Cruz Mountains?

It’s worth noting that on the other side of the country, a review last week for a larger New Jersey production of Crimes bemoaned the actors’ separation from its large 1,100 person audience, who felt disconnected in an over-sized theater. Talk about intimacy issues. That’s one problem the San Lorenzo Valley’s little Mountain Community Theater doesn’t have to worry about.

 

Crimes of the Heart

Fri–Sun through April 1

Park Hall, 9400 Mill St, Ben Lomond

Tickets $15-18 at 831.336.4777 or mctshows.org