Beth Henley's 1979 dramedy is a sharp Southern family portrait about the push and pull of the past.
Beth Henley’s Deep South tragicomedy premiered in 1979 and is set half a decade before that, but as Brad Akin’s sharply executed, infectious staging for Step Up Productions demonstrates, it’s still perfectly in fashion. Henley opens on responsible Lenny (Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst), the oldest of the Mississippi Magrath sisters, in crisis mode in the shabbily linoleumed kitchen of the house she shares with her grandfather, who’s in the hospital. Ol’ Granddad’s not the issue at the moment, though; youngest sister Babe (Elizabeth Antonucci) stands accused of shooting her wealthy, powerful bastard of a husband, and is offering neither remorse nor motive.
Middle sis Meg (Amanda Powell), who decamped for California and a shot at a singing career, has had her phone disconnected and isn’t answering Lenny’s telegram, and Lenny’s busybody cousin Chick won’t go away. (Lindsay Pearlman perfectly captures the bless-her-heart bitchiness of this familiar Southern type.) What’s more, nobody’s remembered it’s Lenny’s 30th birthday, and she fears her role as caretaker has also turned her into an old maid.
Crimes requires a tricky balance of tones, as does any show that references suicide for both pathos and laughs, and wrings catharsis from characters getting the church giggles over a loved one’s impending death. Akin and his fine cast, which also includes Drew Johnson as the old flame Meg left behind and Will Crouse as a young attorney with a personal vendetta against Babe’s husband, walk the line just right. (Costume designer Raquel Adorno’s Sears-catalog-perfect ’70s togs deserve a shout out of their own.) It’s a worthy snapshot of a specific place and time, as well as a fine portrait of that blend of comedy and tragedy that is family.
Step Up Productions at Athenaeum Theatre. By Beth Henley. Directed by Brad Akin. With Elizabeth Antonucci, Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst, Will Crouse, Drew Johnson, Lindsey Pearlman, Amanda Powell. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.