Anyone who's ever had sisters, or has seen a set of aunts kvetch around a kitchen table, knows this much:
Sisters make each other laugh and sob in the same breath. They talk behind backs, or they don't talk at all, and it all means something just as loud.
Jobsite Theater's production of Crimes of the Heart captures that strange sisterly je ne sais quoi.
The dialogue in Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play is bold enough for a less capable cast to get through. But Jobsite elevates the words, with directors Kari Goetz and Jaime Giangrade-Holcom guiding the cast through a web of elegant timing. The actors know when to ramble over each other, voices building to a tittering storm, and they know when to hold back, leaving us tight in the silence.
Crimes of the Heart is a seriocomic Southern Gothic tale, which in English means it's funny and serious and pretty darn dark all at once. Many people know it from the 1986 movie starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek.
The Magrath sisters reunite at the family home in Hazlehurst, Miss., in a stew of sticky circumstances, the least of which turns out to be that their Old Granddaddy is on his death bed.
Youngest sister Babe has just gotten out of jail after shooting her husband because she "didn't like his stinking looks." Of course, there's more to it.
Oldest sister Lenny is celebrating her 40th birthday, which almost everyone has forgotten. She's perpetually alone, using a shrunken ovary as a shield.
Middle sister Meg is a failed singer who overindulges in cigarettes, Bourbon and boyfriends. She has lingering feelings for an old flame who was hobbled in a hurricane. He's in town, too.
Simmering below it all, the sisters are still traumatized by their mother's suicide. They have a lot to talk about, and it's how they go about it that works.
They play with each other's hair. They eat cereal out of the box. They roll their eyes at each other so quickly you might miss it. In one of the play's most hilarious scenes, the sisters are so tired and loopy, they can't stop laughing at a most tragic time.
Christen Petitt Hailey plays Lenny with resigned sadness, straightening things on the wall and tugging at her sweaters. Katie Castonguay gives spunky sparkle to Babe, then stuns in a monologue about shooting her husband. Katrina Stevenson's Meg balances Lenny's dourness and Babe's naivete. She should be the most likely to crumble, but she makes you feel safe.
They're supported well by J. Elijah Cho as lawyer Barnette Lloyd and Christopher Rutherford as Meg's ex, Doc Porter. The men give subtle performances that don't try to match the magnetism of the women — they never could. Christina Jane Capehart as meddling cousin Chick offers the right sugary meanness to make us quietly hate her.
The tone is cast in the set by Kaylin Gess, a kitchen with cheery pastel wallpaper backing portraits of sad Southern women. In the intimate Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center, it feels like you're in the kitchen, too.
If there's a problem with Crimes of the Heart, it's the costumes. Jobsite's version is set in the present day, with e-mails, cordless phones and Hurricane Katrina references. Yet some characters are dressed for a 1950s soda shop in party dresses and bow ties, while others are in mid-1990s denim or Birkenstocks. The clothes get a bit more cohesive in the latter half.
It's easy to overlook when moments in the play grab right for your reality. Like when Meg convinces her sister to share the sordid details of her crime by offering this simple explanation.
"It's a human need to talk about our lives," she tells her. "It's an important human need."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow her on Twitter at @stephhayes.