Crimes of the Heart

GOSSIP GIRLS Rabe, left, dishes with sis Paulson.

GOSSIP GIRLS Rabe, left, dishes with sis Paulson. Photograph: Joan Marcus

In the dramatically lean days of 1981–82, an amiable trifle such as Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart could get a Pulitzer Prize (that same season, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby won the Tony, while Tadeusz Kantor and Caryl Churchill both nabbed Obies). Granted, the Pulitzer is no gauge of artistic daring (see last year’s lame laureling of Rabbit Hole), but one can’t help thinking that we’ve come a long way, baby, from this sort of quirky-gal kitchen-sink dramedy. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the safe-programming Roundabout Theatre Company from dusting off Crimes for its sleepy subscribers.

This community-theater staple is the mother of all chick flicks, a sturdy vehicle for three female performers to ring their Southern-belle sister characters loud and proud. It so happens that debuting celebrity director Kathleen Turner has a trio of fine actors at her disposal. Lily Rabe makes cute use of her winsome squint as husband-shooting youngest kid Babe; Sarah Paulson balances the right amount of hip worldliness and insecurity as glamorous, needy Meg; and Jennifer Dundas clucks and mutters touchingly as the spinsterish Lenny. Turner’s warm, lived-in production earns affection in the first act—setting up the sisters’ dilemmas and authentic rapport—but the second act could use fleeter pacing and more dramatic grit to toughen up Henley’s middlebrow pathos.

Crimes of the Heart is a play about small-town folks trying to escape the past. Forget the yokels, though, when will our biggest theaters start looking to the future?

—David Cote

Laura Pels Theatre. By Beth Henley. Dir. Kathleen Turner. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.