Thunder Bay Theatre visits the tragic comedy/drama genre with this week's opening of "Crimes of the Heart."
Winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, this piece by Southern playwright Beth Henley is set in 1974 in Hazelhurst, Miss.
At the core of the show are the three Magrath sisters: Lenny, Meg and Babe. Lenny, the oldest, is unmarried at 30 and facing diminishing marital prospects. Meg, the middle sister, quickly outgrew Hazelhurst but is back after a failed singing career on the West Coast. Babe, the youngest, is out on bail after having shot her husband in the stomach.
These three key roles are tackled by Nickie Hilton, Kendra McInerney and Tracie Pappin. The sisters troubles, which are grave yet also humorous, are highlighted by their meddling, judgmental cousin, Chick, played by Terry Carlson.
Derek Spack, a TBT veteran performer from seasons past, has returned to Alpena and will be taking on the part of Barnette Lloyd, the awkward, young lawyer who tries to keep Babe out of jail. John Martin appears as Doc, a long-time family friend and former flame of Meg's.
"This is the first show I've selected to do," said TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez. "I like it because it's Southern. We get to visit the South a little bit. Me being from North Carolina, I know what these ladies are like."
Rodriguez said he believes the community of Alpena contains a number of talented female performers, including those he has cast in the show, and that he chose to do "Crimes of the Heart" because of its strong female characters. It is those women-driven roles, he said, that contributed to the show winning top awards.
"In 1981, when it won the Pulitzer, there was a stigma with women in plays that women weren't given that great of a voice," Rodriguez said. "The show is so well written. You can go to any Southern house on a Sunday and hear some of the same conversations and see how these women care about one another."
Both Hilton and McInerney also are impressed with the strong writing and characterizations of the play.
"I think it's a brilliant play," said Hilton, who previously performed in the show as Meg while in college. "It's so well written. The comedy is not in your face. It's very dear to me because I did it in college and it's set in the South, plus I get a chance to play the same part I had seven years ago."
Coming from a family that includes six sisters, McInerney finds lots to identify with in "Crimes of the Heart."
"I love the story of it," McInerney said. "I can see my sisters in Lenny, Meg and Babe, and all the arguments they have and the things they go through. It is definitely a relatable show if you have siblings."
All of the action in the play takes place in the kitchen of Old Granddaddy's home, where the three sisters have gathered to figure out what to do about Babe's legal troubles. The cast and crew collaborated on design and construction of the set.
Performance dates for "Crimes of the Heart" are April 7-10 and April 14-17. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the TBT box office at 354-2267.