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'Crimes of the Heart'
WordsAndPictures: In Guthrie production, sisters bond through tragedy and loss
What: "Crimes of the Heart"
When: May 3-June 15, 2014
Where: Guthrie Theater (Wurtele Thrust Stage), 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls
Tickets: $29-$71; 612-377-2224 or www.guthrietheater.org/buy_tickets

by Anne Hamre

Will a play set in small-town Mississippi in 1974 resonate with Twin Cities audiences in 2014? The Guthrie Theater and director Marcela Lorca are betting that it will. "Crimes of the Heart" reunites three sisters at the home of the grandfather who raised them after their mother's suicide. As the play begins, there's a lot on their plate: Grandpa is gravely ill in the hospital; the youngest sister is out on bail; the oldest sister is turning the big 3-0. And, just in case we forgot to mention, it's a comedy.

The play by Beth Henley won a Pulitzer Prize, and the 1986 film adaptation was nominated for an Academy Award. Still, Lorca was unfamiliar with the play until a Guthrie dramaturg handed it to her for consideration, knowing she was looking for an "American classic" - and a comedy in particular.

"I fell in love with it," Lorca said, finding elements of the play that are both unique and universal. "A relationship consisting of three sisters is unique - that 'triangular' relationship is a very different dynamic than two sisters, or four or more," she said. "The sisters [in the play] are very different from each other, but they adore each other. They've bonded through tragedy and loss."

The soft-spoken oldest sister, Lenny, stayed home to take care of Grandpa and keep house. Flashy middle sister Meg decamped to Los Angeles to try for success in show business. Naïve Babe married young; she now faces charges for shooting her abusive husband, a politician. Babe isn't cooperating with her attorney - or revealing much to her sisters about what's been going on with her.

Although the main focus of the play is the three sisters, Lorca noted that it contains four "fantastic roles" for women. The fourth is cousin "Chick" Boyle, whom Lorca calls "an antagonistic figure, but with incredible amounts of sweetness and spunk."

Life on her own terms

"Crimes of the Heart" remains relevant decades after its 1980 premiere, Lorca said, because "it's incredibly universal." While the youngest sister's crisis is the catalyst for the reunion, she said, in the course of the play each of the sisters reveals and confronts the obstacles she's facing in her own life - obstacles that have kept each of them from fulfilling their dreams.

"By the end, you feel that each has unlocked that elusive thing we all want - an inner freedom, inner power to face the world and live life on her own terms," said Lorca. "And that is a beautiful and universal thing."

On a less lofty note, Lorca chuckled as she confessed that she harbors a soft spot for the decade in which "Crimes of the Heart" takes place.

"I love the '70s - it was a time of incredible change," she said. "There were times of rock 'n roll, and there were times of poetry.

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"It was a slower time," she added. "There was no Internet, there were no cellphones - it was a different kind of communication, a sense of time, a sense of pace which is lovely to revisit."

In a moment from the play that may inspire a few wistful chuckles, for example, Lenny summons Meg back home by means of a telegram. Why? Meg's phone, Lenny says, was disconnected.

Nonetheless, Lorca is confident that the play will reach and resonate with younger audience members, as well - even though twenty-somethings would not have been born when the play premiered. Lorca noted that the play is fast-paced and full of action, along with having "great depth, great playfulness - and the characters are very young."

"Remember, it is a comedy," she added. "So that kind of lures you in - and then you are invited to view this deep and complex story."

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