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Copyright © 1994 The Seattle Times Company
Entertainment News : Monday, July 15, 1996

Henley play offers laughter as tonic for family trials
by Lauren Ray Pollard
Special to The Seattle Times

Theatre Review: "Crimes of the Heart" by Beth Henley, directed by David Hsieh. Produced by the Repertory Actors Workshop at the Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S. Thursdays-Sundays through Aug. 4. 206-364-3283.

The Magrath sisters of Hazlehurst, Miss., are having a bad day; Babe has just shot her abusive husband because she didn't like his looks; wild Meg is home from Hollywood after a nervous breakdown; eldest sister Lenny feels old and unwanted on her 30th birthday; and to top it off, their granddaddy is dying. A bad day for them is a good day for an audience, however, as life's upheavals have rarely been as funny as they are in Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart," a comedy in the Southern Gothic tradition that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

The Repertory Actors Workshop (ReAct), whose trademark is non-traditional casting, has put a different spin on "Crimes" with a primarily Asian-American cast. The twist works just fine, and despite uneven skill levels and some distracting trouble with the Southern accents, ReAct has mounted a winning production.

The shifting sands of sisterhood form the nucleus of this Southern-fried melodrama, and director David Hsieh has three strong actors - Kathy Hsieh, Gigi Jhong and Colleen Parker - in the central roles. Bound by the legacy of their mother's suicide (she hanged herself and the cat when the sisters were children), Lenny, Meg and Babe are three eccentrics who despite their differences, share deep and abiding love.

Hsieh brings a fragile, emotionally brittle quality to the role of lonely, repressed Lenny, who blames a shriveled ovary for her reluctance to live life. Jhong is solid as the brash, straightforward Meg, while the winsome Parker is a delight as Babe, the most multi-faceted of the sisters. Parker's quirky innocence is both touching and hilarious.

Rounding out the cast are Lisa Marie Nakamura as Chick, the sisters' outrageously obnoxious cousin; Kristofer L. Cochran as Doc Porter, Meg's old flame; and Dustin Chinn, who is sweet but too soft-spoken as Babe's callow lawyer.

As the Magraths cope with their crises (in a retro-touched, pink-and-white kitchen designed by David Hsieh), it's clear through the prism of Henley's offbeat and compassionate vision that family is everything and laughter is good medicine.

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Copyright © 1996 The Seattle Times Company. This page was reprinted by ReAct with permission by The Seattle Times and Lauren Ray Pollard.