A trio of Southern Sisters: Crimes of the Heart


Under the capable direction of David Hsieh, the all-Asian American cast from the Repertory Actors Workshop (ReAct) effectively captures the humor, drama and infectious spirit of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Crimes of the Heart," in a production that opened July 11.

Set in Hazelhurst, Miss., "five years after Hurricane Camille," Henley's play centers on the reunion of the three Magrath sisters. Lenny, the oldest, has stayed in the family home dutifully caring for the sisters' ailing grandfather. Cloaked in insecurities arising from her self-consciousness overa "deformed" ovary, she celebrates a lonely 30th birthday by serreptitiously lighting candles she places on cookies and singing "Happy Birthday" to herself. Meg, the rebellious middle sibling, returns home - trailing behind her a failed singing career - when Babe, the youngest Magrath, shoots her big-wig politician of a husband because she "just didn't like his stinking looks."

Lingering in the minds of all three is the memory of the long-ago suicide of their mother, who caused a post-mortem sensation in Hazelhurst by hanging not only herself but inexplicably, the family cat as well.

The richness of the play's characters and relationships stems from the individual and shared misfortunes of the three women. As the plot delineates Babe's predicament, the buoyancy of familial love and the agitation of sibling resentments burst forth with swift accelerations.

After a few opening-night glitches in the flow of the first half of the first act, the actors fell into a well-paced tempo. In the second and third acts, with minor exceptions, the entire cast deftly carried off the twists and turns of comedy and emotional drama that characterize Henley's script.

Kathy Hsieh, Gigi Jhong and Colleen Parker play Lenny, Meg and Babe Magrath respectively. The three quickly define the differing personalities of the Magrath sisters. Hsieh movingly projects the full range of Lenny's character: her gentleness, sense of responsibility, the inner conflict between romantic desires and self pity and in the end, triumph, as she finds her courage. Jhong's performance sharply brings to focus Meg's hard-edged persona of a show-biz flop and femme fatale. Parker is perfectly cast as Babe, managing to combine a child-like innocence with ditzy insouciance (after shooting her husband, Babe offers him lemonade as he bleeds on the floor).

Of the supporting cast, Lisa Marie Nakamura was suitably bitchy as the sisters' pushy first cousin. As the man Meg left behind in pursuit of fame, Kristofer L. Cochran makes the most of a small part. The role of Barnette, Babe's lawyer, is larger and more complex. Dustin Chinn performed admirably, if a bit uncomfortably with the southern accent.

The set, designed by David Hsieh, is a wonderful rendition of a Mississippi kitchen with an Asian twist - a rice cooker sits on the counter. Speaking with Hsieh after the performance, he stated that a kitchen set is a difficult set to stage, requiring running water and appliances. Furthermore, each performance, Hsieh said, "goes through a bag of lemons, 35 candles and a birthday cake."

Hsieh first read the play in high school and over the years it has remained one of his favorites.


August 7 - August 20, 1996


© 1996 The International Examiner. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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