A talented trio masters nuance of family drama

Play: The Bay Theatre Company tackles Beth Henley's `Crimes of the Heart' with aplomb.

Review

Arundel Live

October 14, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Less than two years after presenting its first production, Bay Theatre Company has solidified its reputation for producing thought-provoking plays interpreted by skilled professional actors. Bay Theatre's sixth play introduces the unforgettable trio of wonderfully dysfunctional siblings who inhabit Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy Crimes of the Heart.

Director Paula Gruskiewicz has assembled a stunning cast to tell the story of the Magrath sisters gathering at the family homestead in response to the terminal illness of the grandfather who raised them after their mother's suicide.

Eldest sister Lenny is the principal caregiver for "Old Granddaddy" until he enters the hospital with "all those blood vessels popping in his brain." She then waits for the arrival of her two siblings and copes with a number of daily problems.

Having abandoned her boyfriend, Doc, who rode out Hurricane Camille with her, middle sister Meg pursued a singing career in Hollywood but soon ended up in a mental hospital. Hard-drinking Meg returns home for the reunion, soon picking up with now-married Doc.

Youngest sister Babe is bailed out of jail after shooting her husband in the stomach. Babe is reluctant to explain her motivation to her lawyer, Barnette Lloyd, who has a crush on her and a vendetta against her husband, Zackery.

Still haunted by their mother's suicide, the Magrath sisters confront their problems separately and together. Meg copes with the death of her 20-year-old horse, Billy Boy, along with barbs from her judgmental, image-conscious cousin Chick.

Antoinette Doherty inhabits the central role of spinster sister Lenny, conveying a pathetic loneliness as she lights a single birthday candle perched atop a lone cookie in her attempt to celebrate her 30th birthday. Defending her sisters against attacks from the insufferable but amusing Chick, Doherty conveys a solid bond with her siblings along with hopelessness at her bleak "shrunken ovary" future. On stage alone in Act 1, Doherty gives a tour de force performance that communicates shifting near-simultaneous disparate emotions.

Equally impressive is Santina Maiolatesi's Meg, toughing it out despite her mental fragility. Maiolatesi's taunting of cousin Chick is delicious, her desperate grasping for a better life, even for a single night stolen from Doc's "Yankee" wife, is poignant. Maiolataesi's Meg is a fascinating character who exasperates and enchants.

Claire Bromwell's Babe is a multidimensional character, grasping at happiness and sexual fulfillment wherever they exist - even in an affair with the 15-year-old black youth to whom she turns from her abusive husband - a successful lawyer-politician. Bromwell imparts Babe's innate ability to manipulate men, including nerdy Barnette along with a crippling emotional blindness and dimwitted inability to defend herself. Bromwell conveys a fatalistic predetermined behavior perhaps prescribed by her mother's suicide, and she somehow makes Babe's suicide attempts funny.

Support players - Daniel Sullivan as Doc Porter, Alex Major as Barnette and Marcea Pierson as Chick - are excellent.

The great kitchen set includes a working sink with running water and a homey old refrigerator plus authentic-looking wooden floors, crown molding and a charming small chandelier, which combine to create the perfect 1960s kitchen. All of this is the creation of the talented Meghan Toohey.

Crimes of the Heart continues at Bay Theatre through Nov. 13. Tickets: 410-268-1333.

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