By the time American Stage’s production of Crimes of the Heart goes up, it will have been eight years since the last professional mounting of Beth Henley’s tragic-comedy in the Tampa Bay area.
Jobsite Theater presented a searing production that featured the likes of Katrina Stevenson (still creating jaw- droppingly good performances, recently in their box office smash Dracula), Katie Castonguay (missed onstage recently, but I still remember her bounding down the stairs dragging a lighting fixture attached to a rope around her neck) and J. Elijah Cho (who, between his acclaimed one -man show “Mr. Yunioshi” and as a recurring character on AMC’s "Halt and Catch Fire" has set a trajectory for star status) and, in what in retrospect was an uncredited opportunity, myself as an assistant stage manager.
I was 17 years old at the time. And I fell in love. An Academy-Award nominated film adaptation, a Broadway production with multiple Off-Broadway revivals, and the enduring acclaim of a Pulitzer Prize- there’s no debate about Crimes of the Heart’s resonance. But what exactly does it give us today, right here in St. Petersburg? How are we tied to this play? There is oftentimes a reluctance from Floridians, both native and transplant, to claim true “Southerner” status. My mother still claims very staunchly that “we don’t count” despite living in a state where going any further south means you’ll plunge yourself into the ocean. What you’ll notice in this play is how intrinsically the characters uphold their specific values on their own terms.
Hazlehurst may be a blip on the map a few states over, but the implacable stoicism of the McGrath sisters feels very much like the conversations that could be overheard in my very own backyard growing up in north Pasco.
The sweet southern drawl that sounds like a hummingbird sing-song fluttering to wrap you in a warm “hullo” and welcoming you to have a seat, could easily flip over and give you a backhanded slap with a violet-hued “bless your heart” in the event that true stupidity got in your way. But aside from how these characters sound, how they choose to uphold themselves with dignity and poise feels like the relentlessness of Floridian grace; insistent in their ache to be seen as more than a stereotype or who they are in relation to their romantic entanglements.
They’ll make you a tall glass of lemonade while threatening to chase you out of their kitchen with a wooden broom. That’s southern hospitality!
But maybe the best way to talk about this play isn’t necessarily to find societal similarities, but to talk about why it has resonated deeply with me. There is not a single person in the world who will understand your baggage better than your siblings. They will see you at your purest, your most awkward, your most confident, your most heartbroken. And they can prescribe the root of your problems faster and with much more flare than any therapist or psychoanalyst ever could. After all, they’ve been there from the start.
They will infuriate the living hell out of you, and they will understand exactly how to push every single one of your buttons. And yet, they’re the only people that will be there for the entirety of you from childhood to senior citizenship. I think it could be very easy to look at the “crimes” of the “heart” in this play as the ways that different people can hurt us (and vice versa) when love gets in the way. But every time I think about this story I think about my sister.
I think about our collective baggage. I think about how we can laugh until we cry and cry until we can’t help but laugh. And how at the very end of the day I’m glad that the messiness of trying to simply cohabitate is the thing that binds us together.
I hope that when you see this play you’ll think about your siblings, if you have them, and remember the corner of your heart that they live in.
About the Show:
Follow the story of three sisters as they escape the past to seize the future. This dark and hilarious Pulitzer prize-winning play is so true and touching and consistently funny it will linger in the mind long after the curtain has descended.
Winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Showtimes: Jan. 11 - Feb. 5
A two-act show.
Wednesday-Thursday, 7 p.m.
Friday, 8 p.m.
Saturday, 2 & 8 p.m.
Sunday. 2 p.m.
Tickets are available here. $45 single tickets. Call the box office at (727) 823-7529 for group sales.