Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Crimes of the Heart
Ross Valley Players
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Hairspray

Jensen Power, Margaret Grace Hee,
and Chandler Parrott-Thomas

Photo by Robin Jackson
It's been a while since I've been to a show by Marin's Ross Valley Players, and I'm pleased to see the improvements the company has made in both their facility and the quality level of their productions. Cushy new seats have replaced the faded and broken-down ones, and the opening performance of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart featured a solid cast performing against a terrific set (by Ron Krempetz). It's wonderful that, along with Novato Theatre Company, Marin boasts two solid community theatre organizations.

Crimes of the Heart premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979, played Off-Broadway December 1980 - January 1981, and made it to Broadway's John Golden Theatre in November 1981. It won a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best American Play in 1981, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1982, and won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is the story of the Magrath sisters, a trio from Hazelhurst, Mississippi, and the chaos that enters their lives when youngest sister Babe (Margaret Grace Hee) shoots her husband, and middle sister Meg (Chandler Parrott-Thomas) comes home from a failed shot at Hollywood fame, leaving eldest sister Lenny (Jensen Power) to keep the family's messes from further tarnishing the Magrath name.

It's a name that could already use some polishing, since their mother's suicide two decades earlier had garnered national attention—for a reason that is not revealed until act three. With their granddaddy ailing, Babe out on bail (and giving the only motive for shooting her husband that she "didn't like his looks"), and Meg fabricating stories about her coming success, poor Lenny has to deal with it all—and on her 30th birthday, no less. It's all rather Southern Gothic, and darkly comic.

The three actresses do solid if uninspired work here. As Babe, Margaret Grace Hee expresses a wide-eyed innocence that is both appropriate and inappropriate, given her crime and the true reasons for her actions. (She may truly not have liked her husband's looks, but her motivation for attempted murder is funny in a creepy sort of way.) Jensen Power revs the manic engine a little too close to the red line in the first scenes, but settles into her performance as the show goes on and comes off very believably as a caring (and sometimes frustrated) big sister. Meg is quite the narcissist, caring only about herself, and Chandler Parrott-Thomas gives the role a lovely detached air. When she comes around in the end, remembering the love the sisters have for each other—despite the high drama—we almost completely forgive her self-centeredness.

Jeremy Judge brings a gangly geekiness to the role of Barnette Lloyd, the young lawyer who is selected to defend Babe—though, when he is laying out his strategy for the defense, that geekiness doesn't quite express itself as expertise. A change in tone in those moments would go a long way to adding dimension to his character. Michel Harris plays Doc Porter, a local young man (who had a romance with Meg when they were teens), with a laid-back country casualness and sexy charm that is hidden by some stiff readings in his first scene, but comes to the fore when Meg returns home.

Caitlin Strom-Martin is the sixth member of the cast, playing Chick Boyle, the sisters' cousin. Chick is a dyed-in-the-wool Southern Belle (at least that's what she wants the world to believe), and Strom-Martin milks that trope for all it's worth. Her eyes roll at the mention of Yankees like the arc of a Roman candle on the Fourth of July. She's all about appearances and tradition, but there's too little depth to her character—though that is probably more the fault of Beth Henley than Strom-Martin.

For the biggest problem with this production is that the play's not aging terribly well into our era of YouTube revelations and reality TV. We all see bigger, more gothic drama any night of the week on our various screens than Henley imagined 40 years ago, and it undercuts both the drama and the humor of the text. It's not helped by Patrick Nims' direction, which is a little unfocused, with a pace that's a bit languid.

If Southern Gothic is your thing and you enjoy supporting our local theatre artists (please do!), Crimes of the Heart is a pretty good reason to get yourself to the cozy (and now more comfortable) Barn Theatre.

Crimes of the Heart, through August 11, 2019, at Ross Valley Players, Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $22-27 general admission, and $12-15 for those 24 and under. Tickets can be ordered by calling 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visiting