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The Real Humor in Beth Henley’s 1980 Comedy, “Crimes of the Heart,” Comes from Its Grit

Maigan Kennedy (left), Jennifer Violette Avery (center), and Dana Zihlman Harshaw will star as Babe, Lenny, and Meg in Theatre Raleigh's Aug. 13-24 production of "Crimes of the Heart" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Maigan Kennedy (left), Jennifer Violette Avery (center), and Dana Zihlman Harshaw will star as Babe, Lenny, and Meg in Theatre Raleigh‘s Aug. 13-24 production of “Crimes of the Heart” (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Why do so many Southern writers deal so much with quirky, neurotic, and unhappy characters? Is it residue self-loathing from the Civil War? The loss of personal worth accompanying the fall from high societal status? The admixture of overwhelming wealth and power with poverty and helplessness? Why does it seem more pronounced in the literature of the Southern states? And is it, even?

These are some of the questions one might struggle with in a play like Crimes of the Heart. But somehow the understories that we need, to feel we are engaged by characters who are more than just comical, was absent in Thursday night’s performance of Theatre Raleigh’s production of Beth Henley’s 1980 Off-Broadway and 1981 Broadway comedy/drama in Kennedy Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.

The comedy was there, funny lines, funny situations, but the underlying meat, the gristle and tendon that give comedy its bind had been missed. We would have liked to embrace these characters, empathize with them, feel their pain. We heard about their pain, but it was rarely demonstrated.

The fault here lies predominately at the feet of Jeffrey Meanza, the director, who didn’t find the way to penetrate the depths of his actors’ characters. Set and lighting designer Chris Bernier missed the boat creating an unattractive room in a house that should have been slightly rundown but with the memory of grandeur in times past.

The actors did well with the absence of clear-cut understanding of their pasts and the drives that guided their behaviors. Jennifer Violette Avery showed us real depth in her scene calling Charlie Hill, a possible suitor she had departed from because she believed she couldn’t have children. She managed the part of the beset Lenny, the sister who was left behind to care for the ailing grandfather with grace and tenderness, and showed some grit being alone for her birthday.

Meg, the once-ambitious songstress who fled to Hollywood to make a career and embellishes her lack of success with untrue tales, is played by Dana Zihlman Harshaw, who brings out her character’s zest and brass and flirtatious manner with ease. However, we are left to wonder what her real motives might be in returning to visit when Old Grandaddy is nearing death.

Maigan Kennedy is wide-eyed and innocent as Babe Boutrelle, the wife of the richest man in town whom she has attempted to murder. She also has a ruinous secret to hide.

Barnette Lloyd, Babe’s attorney, is portrayed by Jesse R. Gephart, who brings solid Southern genteelness to the part and develops good chemistry with Kennedy. Sandi Sullivan is vivacious and cutting in the role of Chick Boyle, cousin to the three sisters who feels very much their superior and never lets them forget it. Doc Porter, the once-jilted boyfriend of Meg, is given to us by Adam Poole.

This is the penultimate show of the Hot Summer Nights Series, the last one being The Music of Hot Summer Nights (Aug. 29th and 30th), a 10th anniversary event.

SECOND OPINION: August 14th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks:

Theatre Raleigh presents CRIMES OF THE HEART at 8 p.m. Aug. 15, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 16, 3 p.m. Aug. 17, 8 p.m. Aug. 20-22, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 23, 3 p.m. Aug. 24 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $27 ($25 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $22 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-480-5166 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-480-5166.

SHOW:,, and







Crimes of the Heart (1980 Off-Broadway and 1981 Broadway comedy/drama): (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Beth Henley (Jackson, MS-born playwright and screenwriter): (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Crimes of the Heart (1986 film): (Turner Classic Movies), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jeffrey Meanza (Chapel Hill, NC director): (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews