I woke up the day before my birthday with an hour less sleep and a jam-packed schedule. The car wouldn’t start, I nearly got stung by a wasp, the AAA dude forgot his battery tester, I missed brunch with my family and by the time I got to the Hillbarn Theatre to see Crimes of the Heart, I was starving. I inhaled a Twix from the concession stand and headed to my seat. When it rains, it pours, no? Little did I know that the events of the day would put me right in the frame of mind, and I do mean smack dab in the head of, our main character, who was suffering a far more dramatic version of my own morning.
Suicide. Domestic abuse. Attempted murder. OCD. Elder care. All the fixins’ of a sweet little comedy, right? You may scoff, but there’s a bit of magic happening on the Hillbarn stage this month when the above atrocities and others of their ilk, are presented in a surprisingly quaint and gentle Southern comedy. Somewhere between Steel Magnolias and The Bell Jar this strange little play is full of very likable and severely flawed characters which makes for extremely compelling storytelling.
Perhaps most refreshing aspect of this play is the fact that these characters are comfortable with their flaws. They openly acknowledge them. They make fun of them. Mot importantly they support each other from the small annoying quirks all the way to alleged felonies. They embrace their unique foibles and instead of dwelling in dysfunction they reassure each other and the audience, that it’s perfectly okay to be a bit off. Or a lot off. They problem solve where they could moan or fight and by acknowledging their weaknesses, mistakes, and tragedies, they find a tremendous amount of laughter and so does the audience. And laughter is the best medicine, right? Well, laughter and cake, and there’s some of that too.
I have to be honest, coming into the play with the day I’d had, I wasn’t sure I could stay for the whole thing, which is about two hours and 40 minutes including two 10 minute intermissions. But, I did and was glad I did. This production could have gone to the very bad dark place so easily, but instead the entire production embraces acceptance in a believable, enchanting, and supremely entertaining way.
And every technical element helps the story along. A phenomenal set, truly detailed, functional and beautiful in its dated palate and style, helps to serve as a solid reality-based foundation for the world of the play. Equally fantastic costumes distinctly define and accent each of the characters from a practical standpoint as well as an interpretive one. Direction was logical, smooth and committed. Whether script, director or actor choice, there were a number of delightful moments that really struck me as important in their insignificance. How one character always wiped their feet before coming in the house. How another truly goes the extra mile in trying desperately to stifle their OCD tendencies. I think ultimately because of the immense care taken in creating these characters (from every production angle) I was able to ignore the impulse to judge and just care about them. A clever approach and I think very appropriate and effective one to this script.
Yes, this play is full of crazy in just about every definiton of the word, but in the end, I have to say, go ahead and get in bed with crazy. This really delightful, amusing and unexpectedly suspenseful production is full of wrong that feels so right. An adorable and well deserved 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a production rich with chemistry, interesting and identifiable relationships and much-needed laughter. Crimes of the Heart plays in Foster City at the Hillbarn Theatre through March 25th.