Hilarious and heartfelt, the Backyard Theater Ensemble’s Crimes of the Heart invites you to into the small southern kitchen of the Magrath sisters where you will laugh, cry and laugh again and then you’ll want to talk about the experience long after curtain call. From the working sink in the set to the pitch perfect performance of the cast, every detail captures the drama and the laughs in Beth Henley’s laugh out loud script. The joy of the dialogue is in the discovery when each performer delivers a new line giving insight into underlying motivations of the flawed but highly entertaining characters. To tell you the plot is to do a disservice to that discovery. Suffice it to say that the show takes place within a Mississippi home where the three Magrath sisters return to find comfort while their lives unravel.
The Backyard Theater Ensemble is a special community of theater professionals related by the common vision of excellence and the love of the stage. There are three sisters in the story and the camaraderie and sisterly love is genuine and real because this troupe is a family.
Sybil Chamberlin anchors the production as Lenny, the elder sister who has been trapped by the constraints of responsibility. When she laughs, the audience can’t help but laugh because we believe in her performance. Chamberlin immerses herself in the role; agony and quiet suffering is written on her face as she holds a worn deck of cards just as strength and joy shine like birthday candles when the rare opportunity presents itself.
Kailee Donovan is brilliant as the uncontainable Meg, the wayward sister. Donovan is a force on stage and the brash Meg delivers uproarious lines as the prodigal sister returning to the family home.
Tina Parziale plays the youngest sister “Babe” who is in the deepest trouble in the story. Parziale’s Babe is portrayed so sweetly and innocently we understand why everyone else on stage wants to go above and beyond and back again to protect her from her own poor choices and actions.
The supporting cast flawlessly adds to the movement of the story. Dawn DeMeo as Chick is a riot as the too nosy cousin without an appropriate verbal filter and when she talks down to the three sisters in cringe-worthy fashion the audience cringes and laughs at the same time. There’s great chemistry between Parziale’s Babe and Sean Gilleylen’s Barnette, a young attorney smitten with her. His attempt to keep a professional legal demeanor as Babe retells an unusual event is very funny. Rounding out the cast is Chet Ostroski as Doc Porter, the amiable family friend who never left town. We feel there is a strong connection between Ostroski’s Porter and the Magrath family and Ostroski shares the history of his special relationship with the Magraths in subtle ways like a long look, a pet name or the limp when he walks.
Each member of this theater family brings all of their talents to the table to make a show truly extraordinary. The director Donato D’Albis built a functioning kitchen with a cutting board, drawers that open and close and a working sink so when Parziale’s Babe creates lemonade, she actually makes it to highly comedic effect. The lighting in the show by Dylan Maxwell Reilly is superb but so is the clay pot he crafted specifically for a centerpiece of the dining room table on the set. Chris Petrucci on sound adds those defining touches like the phone ringing and the music and some sound “up stairs” that’s perfect when Parziale tromps downstairs in one comical and yet moving moment. Taylor Crofton is the stage manager for this show providing the introductions and “thank-yous” and she rearranges the set during intermission but she’s also an actress herself and will be acting in an award winning Backyard Theater Ensemble’s performance at the Warner in February.
The theater on the main level of the Thomaston Opera House is intimate and cozy, holding approximately 50 seats on risers, comfortably affording a perfect view of the set from any angle. This particular set up provides an extra layer of heart because we, the audience, are so close to the action we feel we are in that kitchen with the Magraths. There are adult themes and situations throughout the play so this is not for young children. I consider the Backyard Theater Ensemble’s production of “Crimes of the Heart” a “must see” for any Connecticut theatergoer in 2014. It will not be too long before this group receives the statewide and then regional recognition they richly deserve and we will marvel at the fact we had the opportunity to see the performance in the small theater with a big heart.
***When you go, you will find that this review was spot-on and none of my descriptions were hyperbolic in any way. You’ll want to talk about the show-don’t hold it in. Tell as many people as you can to go to this performance and share it on social media. This production deserves to be seen and enjoyed by your friends and neighbors.*****
(check back later in the week-I will add illustrations to this review)