There are regular old bad days and then there are epic bad days.
It's the later that the three Magrath sisters in Thunder Bay Theatre's newest production, "Crimes of the Heart," encounter. Babe just shot her politico husband in the stomach, Meg is fresh from the looney bin and poor Lenny celebrates her 30th birthday alone by sticking a candle in a cookie.
A favorite horse getting struck by lightning, a grandfather who has suffered a series of strokes and the very real prospect of jail time for Babe bring still more travails to the threesome All is not doom and gloom though, for as TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez likes to say, this show is about a collection of people who put the "fun in family dysfunction."
The cast for Thunder Bay Theatre’s current production of “Crimes of the Heart” includes, from left, Derek Spack, Kendra McInerney, Tracie Pappin, Terry Carlson, Nickie Hilton and John Martin.
Part drama, part black comedy, this 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning play with a Southern sensibility was written by Beth Henley and takes place in 1974 in the real life town of Hazelhurst, Miss. Rodriguez has assembled a very capable, very likeable six-person cast who conveys the understated humorous moments of the show while also allowing the characters to resonate with emotional truthfulness.
Lenny, the oldest of the sisters, is the responsible and level-headed member of the bunch. Tracie Pappin plays up Lenny's endearingly meek side while also giving her a certain strength. She's the spinster who by age 30 has lived her whole life for others, especially as the primary caretaker for their ailing and hospitalized grandfather.
But the shy Lenny also longs for love. Not sure what to do about Babe's unexpected act of violence, Lenny calls in the reinforcements and wires Meg, the middle sister, to come back home to Hazelhurst to help deal with the situation.
Meg, well portrayed by Nickie Hilton, fairly bursts onto the scene in all her lusty, chain-smoking, irresponsible glory. Meg is back in town after a failed music career on the West Coast. Hilton brings just the right demeanor to her character, a graduate of the school of hard knocks.
Then there is Babe, who in the hands of Kendra McInerney, appears sweetly childlike and rather blithe for one accused of shooting her well-heeled husband. By way of an explanation, Babe merely tells folks that she shot him because she "didn't like his looks."
Of course, there is more to the story, which eventually comes tumbling out, but not before meddling, sanctimonious Cousin Chick keeps coming around to remind the sisters of their failures and shortcomings, including the notorious tragedy of their mother's suicide. Terry Carlson is her usual spot-on self in this fun role.
While the show provides some meaty female characters, it also features two male supporting roles that are likewise enjoyable. John Martin assumes the part of Doc Porter, the family friend and former flame of Meg's who is now married (to a Yankee, no less!) and has two kids. Martin gives the down-home Doc a pleasing mix of joviality and regret.
Derek Spack plays Barnette Lloyd, the ambitious yet awkward young attorney charged with defending Babe. It's nice to see Spack bring his considerable talents back to the TBT stage again after an absence of several seasons.
There aren't really any high points of drama in "Crimes of the Heart," but rather a more languid pacing of the story as befitting the Deep South. It's played out in the vintage kitchen of "Ole Grandaddy's" home that is depicted by the quite serviceable set put together by the collective cast and crew at TBT.
The three sisters, helped along by Chick, Doc and Barnette, give a convincing snapshot of a family hugging each one moment and bitterly bickering the next. In the end, though they have fussed and fueded their way through an epic bad day, their connectedness and love for one another transcends their problems.
Remaining performance dates for "Crimes of the Heart" are April 8-10 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.