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Marshall University Theater presents sister-fueled comedy, drama

November 15, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Next week, families and all the personalities that make up those units will find themselves under one roof, stuffed around a Thanksgiving table, and oh the comedy and drama that may unfold.

But that ain’t nothing honey. This week, putting the fun into dysfunctional family is the one and only Mississippi-mud-slinging, crazy in love, Magrath sisters: Meg, Babe and Lenny all back living, crying, laughing and fighting together to survive in their childhood home after Babe shot her abusive husband.

Taking place in a realistic 1970s-house set, and starring a shining set of senior actresses is the Marshall University Theater’s production of Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart,” which won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.

Marshall’s production is one week-only at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 14-17 at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center playhouse.

Admission is $20 at the door, $15 MU faculty and seniors. Free for MU students with a valid ID.

Director Jack Cirillo, who directed the play back in 1999, his second year at Marshall, said there’s a lot of good reasons to dive back into Henley’s 1979-written work that actually premiered regionally at the prestigious Actors Theatre in Louisville before debuting on Broadway on Nov. 4, 1981.

“Crimes of the Heart” was also a successful 1986 film that starred Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek as the three sisters. Spacek won the Golden Globe Award for best actress for her portrayal of Babe.

“There are so many decisions that go into choosing a season and picking shows and some of that is your clientele and student body, and what is a good piece for them,” Cirillo said. “This is a play that has some terrific roles for women and I think that it has some compelling things to say about the dynamics of a family and I am always interested in that.”

Called by Roger Ebert, the late, great film critic as a “comedy about serious matters that exists between parody and melodrama, the tragic and the goofy,” “Crimes of the Heart,” tells the story of the Magrath sisters, Meg (Emily Stuck), Babe (Kelsey Hofe) and Lenny (Helen Masters) who are reunited in their old granddaddy’s house in Hazlehurst, Miss., after Babes shoots her abusive husband.

The eccentric sisters (raised by their granddad after their mom hung herself and the family cat) are now grown up and have to deal with assorted relatives like their self-righteous cousin, Chick Boyle (Abby Yazvac), their past relationships, and all of the quirks that come with facing your own “crimes of the heart.”

Lenny, the oldest sister, is unmarried at thirty and facing diminishing marital prospects; Meg, the middle sister, who quickly outgrew Hazlehurst, is back after a failed singing career; while Babe, the youngest, is out on bail thanks to her awkward young lawyer Barnette Lloyd who tries to keep Babe out of jail while trying helplessly not to fall in love with her.

“What is wonderful about this piece is that it is this really nice balance of comedy and drama that playwrights in the late 1970s and early 1980s were really exploring,” Cirillo said. ”... It is also very user friendly for our audiences but it is nice to work with a piece that really does go back and forth between comedy and drama and gives the actors an ability to flex those muscles in the same piece.”

Abby Yazvac, a senior in theater performance who plays the cousin Chick Boyle, and Kelsey Hofe, a senior in theater performance, who plays Babe, said it is exciting to have roles in a play where the women are not apologetic, are “owning it” and are all centered on how they can live on their own.

“I think the thing I find most interesting about it is the relationship between the sisters and the cousins,” Hofe said. “I love that the characters not mentioned in the play are so present to what the action on stage is, that it affects everything they do, so really just exploring the human condition is what it is all about for me.”

“These characters kind of flip back and forth from dramatic emotion to dramatic emotion and from zero to 100 so it is fun to explore that as well,” Yazvac said. “It is a family comedy, so I think everyone in the audience will be able to find something they recognize in their own family, it is very true to that.”

As a sitcom-like family drama should, all of the drama takes place at home- in their grandparent’s house which the sisters have given a 1970s makeover.

With a soundtrack that includes such southern fried sounds as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker (ironically both of whom play Huntington Saturday night), “Crimes of The Heart,” has a set that looks like set designer Jamez Morris-Smith peeled it - wallpaper and all - out of your mamaw’s 1970s ranch house. Avocado green stove and fridge - check. Vintage ’70s cabinets rescued from a Southside dumpster - check. Rotary phone - check. Family photo album from 1975 - check.

“This could be Georgia after a rain storm it has so much orange in it,” Morris-Smith said laughing at those 1970s interior colors. “It’s in a period I know well so it was easy to set dress, I was going back and thinking what my mother had in our house in 1975, you tell the story of the people in the play by what possessions they had. This is their grandmother’s home and now that the girls live there they have updated it to fit their tastes. That is where we get the Pumpkin Chiffon.”

To make it realistic, the set has water in the sink and even cakes that come out of the oven - all on period-correct dishes from that era such as Corningware casserole dishes, plastic canister sets and percolated coffee.

“They are doing everything from making lemonade and playing cards to making coffee,” Cirillo said. “A birthday cake figures into the story line late in the play prominently. So a friend of mine baked eight cakes for us to have each night.”

As is often the case with MU Theatre, the use of lighting, and in this case, projection, helps give the stage an extra depth of feel.

“The projection is one of the things I wanted to use,” Morris-Smith said. “The set is suggested realism, the walls aren’t continued, but I wanted to give you a sense of the house, that set the background with the image as to what he house looks like from the outside. We Googled a bunch of images from Mississippi and it sort of sets the theme of the show there and that helps ground this to realism.”

Cirillo, who last directed “Crimes of the Heart” in 1999, said it’s been neat to take another trip into the rollercoaster lives of the Magrath sisters.

“It’s been kind of fun getting to do a show I had directed once before with a new cast and hopefully with a new perspective.”

If You Go

WHAT: Marshall University Theatre’s production of “Crimes of The Heart”

WHERE: Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center playhouse

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 14-17

HOW MUCH: $20 at the door, $15 MU faculty and seniors. Free for MU students with a valid ID

GET TIX: Call 304-696-2787

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