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Theater doesn’t always have to be challenging and demanding of its audience; sometimes, mere enjoyment will do. However, not all enjoyable plays are created equal: some wallow in baseness, no more than fluff, whereas others can be transcendent if given the right attention. Tipping Point Theatre demonstrates the artistic potential of the mainstream play in its splendid production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart. Here, Kate Peckham's meticulous direction and three knockout lead performances combine in a flawless tale of Southern sisterhood.

The Magrath sisters reunite in their granddaddy’s house in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, and seem determined to make the connection restorative, even in the face of dubious circumstances. Specifically, the occasion marks youngest sister Babe’s release from prison after admittedly wounding her state-senator husband via gunshot to the belly. In her role as the fragile but generous Babe, Maggie Meyer is deceptively aloof with her honesty and deftly unveils the real, worrisome troubles looming within the character. The news also summons home the furthest-flung of the sisters, Meg (Inga R. Wilson), an aspiring starlet whose magic singing voice proved to have more traction at home than in Hollywood. Here, Wilson revels in returning to this small pond a triumphant — albeit deceitful — big fish; unable to resist the temptation of past happiness, she perpetuates a vicious cycle of compensating for prior bad decisions by making new ones. But for all these choices blow up in their faces, Meg and Babe still feel like they’re better off than Lenny (Hallie B. Bard), who has assumed the mantle of caretaker to her ailing grandfather, wears her barrenness like an anvil, and can't seem to believe she deserves anything better. Bard takes this frumpy old-maid character, who asks little of others and expects even less, and gives her an active stake in the sisters’ relationship; the viewer is less inclined to pity her than to root for her strengthening backbone as Lenny draws purpose and fortitude from the unlikely source of her siblings.

The women are shaped by a tragic past in their mother’s frequently invoked and notoriously upsetting death, but the unfurling details only serve to further shape their present selves. Together, these three actors bring both nuance and electricity in force to the upheaval driving their stories, presenting a compelling take on adult siblings being variously let down by how their lives wound up and turning inward to face the world together. Just as exhilarating, however, is their beyond-compare execution of Henley’s persistent dark humor, digging for laugh-out-loud delivery from the most unexpected lines. The comedy is so consistently and successfully threaded through the melodramatic story that when the sisters start their own inappropriate laughter at something that has no business being funny, it feels like they’re merely catching up with the audience.

The show and its core performances find additional strength in a supporting cast of three and a production design that pays tribute to the 1974 setting. Sonja Marquis puts on airs as the girls’ haughty gossip of a cousin, showing all the finesse of a battering ram as she casts about for a conversation partner to dominate. As Meg’s former flame, Seth Amadei tests his soft-spoken conviction in the life he chose, still nursing a limp he gained during the most salacious of their escapades, but clearly wistful for the carefree self Meg brings out in him. Ty Mitchell brings exposition and evidence as Babe’s nervous attorney; Mitchell gives the uncertain youngster a charm to his wet-behind-the-ears gusto and an inexperienced willingness to let the case get personal. A lived-in hodgepodge of costumes by designer Melanie Schuessler, a banging-screen-door kitchen by designer Dennis Crawley that almost fights to hold dilapidation at bay, and a crowd of throwback properties by Beth C. Duey give the play a color-buzzed, busily full aesthetic right out of an old family album. Ruth Nardecchia’s lighting design seasons the space with sun-soaked afternoons and the affrontery of an up-all-night dawn, and sound by Joel Klain lingers in laconic jazz notes of small-town sleepy life, a tone winkingly upended by the scandalous business that fires Hazlehurst’s engines.

This production of Crimes of the Heart is the whole enchilada: careful attention to a modern-classic text, rich setting working in tandem with winning performances, and razor-sharp comic delivery that retains its ability to surprise. Moreover, the exemplary work of Bard, Meyer, and Wilson elevates an already strong production onto another plane of grandness; watching these three work separately and together, the viewer easily loses himself in the utter pleasure of their captivating journey.


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