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Canberra Today 15°/19° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Cast triumphs in Rep’s ‘Crimes of the Heart’

The three sisters, from left, Lenny, Meg and Babe. Photo: Karina Hudson

Theatre / “Crimes of the Heart”, directed by Karen Vickery. At Canberra Rep Theatre until May 13. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

IN a kind of ’70s twist on Chekov’s “Three Sisters”, this moving yet wacky play by American writer Beth Hanley plunges us into a family home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, as narrow-minded a small town as you could hope to avoid.

The play is long by today’s standards, but in the hands of director Karen Vickery the minute examination on stage of what she calls a “pressure-cooker situation” pays off for anyone interested in the art of acting.

There are two men in this work, but they are not as strongly as delineated as the women, who are offered plum acting roles for female performers game enough to tackle eccentric characters and even more eccentric southern accents.

Rather like Chekhov’s Olga – some of her lines echo the Russian play – Lenny is the hard-working, seemingly unloved sister, but in this play appearances can be deceptive. Although her role is largely lacking in fireworks, the action begins and ends with the focus on Lenny, performed with restraint and sympathy by Carmen King.

Meaghan Stewart, left, and Ella Buckley, making a meal of their roles. Photo: Karina Hudson

Meaghan Stewart has most of the pyrotechnics and she makes a meal of the role. She obviously enjoys playing Meg, the wayward sister and failed singer with quite a reputation in Hazlehurst.

Stewart approaches the role with a considerable amount of swagger and bravado in a performance dialled up a bit too high, but towards the end she achieves a greater measure of depth and sensitivity than the earlier scenes would suggest.

As Babe, the hapless sister who shoots her husband, Ella Buckley starts with reticence but grows into her unusual, even weird character (she plays the world’s worst sax) as the evening progresses, to turn in a powerful performance.

There’s a fourth female role, the girls’ sanctimonious cousin Chick. Kathleen Dawe turns in a smashing performance of this irritating character, so much so that so that the audience applauds when she finally gets her comeuppance.

This is a play about family trauma that teases out the backgrounds of the characters exhaustively. It’s impossible to pick a favourite sister from the trio, but they’re at their best when acting in ensemble as in the scene where Lenny and Babe burst into uncontrolled laughter at the thought of their old grandfather dying, before the shocked Meg.

To Australian audiences, who might have expected one of the characters to hang herself, there is a serious danger that “Crimes of the Heart”, could teeter into American schmaltz, but Vickery has taken a firm hand here to ensure that Henley’s laconic black humour shines through, so that except for the inevitably sentimental ending where a flood of glitter descends from the heavens, it is handled with great taste.


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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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