Sometimes life’s misery can stack up so horribly that it bleeds into tragic comedy.
And therein lies some of the dark humor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Crimes of the Heart” that the Mill Race Theatre Company will present Sept. 27-29 at Mill Race Center in Columbus.
The production serves as an added example of how the local troupe continues tackling serious subject matter to broaden its scope beyond its ever-popular summer musicals.
The production shines a light on so much darkness with the dysfunctional McGrath sisters, the show’s three principal characters in tiny Hazelhurst, Mississippi, that some people have lightheartedly labeled the story Southern Discomfort.
First-time director Sharon Andrews hopes audience members will see slivers of themselves in the trio.
“Really, when it all comes down to it, aren’t we all at least a little bit dysfunctional anyway?” Andrews asked before a recent rehearsal. “You can see that the characters are not making fun (of actual serious issues). And I think they show that sometimes, all you can do is laugh.”
In “Crimes,” one of the sisters named Babe shot her husband in the stomach and awaits trial. The women’s past hardly makes life any easier.
Their father abandoned them. Their mother committed suicide along with the family cat. Lenny’s house gets struck by lightning. You get the picture.
Their life is bad to the bone. The old-fashioned bad.
So thank goodness for the comic relief.
Actress Caitlin Smith, who plays sister Meg, loves the humor.
“Of course, we do a lot of laughing in the actual show,” Smith said. “But we also have been laughing in rehearsals because we just crack each other up.”
Alycyn Pratt plays sister Lenny, and Emily Nolting plays Babe. All are real-life friends who enjoy one another’s company.
Some of the laughter surfaces in one-liners. For instance, one character announces at one point, “Meg is known all over Copiah County as cheap Christmas trash.”
Or, there comes this exchange between cousin Chick Boyle (played by Mindy Rhude) and Babe as she awaits trial.
Chick: “What are you going to tell (attorney) Mr. Lloyd (Stephen Planalp) about shooting (your husband) Zachery … uh, what are your reasons gonna be?”
“That I didn’t like his looks,” Babe snaps. “That I didn’t like his stinkin’ looks! I don’t like yours either, Chickie stick.”
One different angle in the production has been the assistance of Mississippi natives and Columbus residents Christy and Ken Langston as Southern dialect coaches — or, as Christy Langston put it, “drawl doctors.” That idea was the brainchild of director Sharon Andrews, who was a linguistics major for a time at New York University.
Andrews has served on the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic board with Christy Langston, who grew up in tiny, 12,000-population Brookhaven, Mississippi, just south of Hazelhurst, where the play unfolds. During her Mississippi childhood, she was the next-door neighbor to the grandmother of Beth Henley, who wrote the work. She also knew Henley from childhood.
Though Christy Langston left her native state some 30 years ago, she was happy to help.
“At the beginning part of it was just getting them to unlearn some things,” Christy Langston said, especially the tendency for actors to simply drop consonants at the end of a word when trying to sound Southern. “But we also had to kind of cut to the chase.”
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What: Mill Race Players’ presentation of "Crimes of the Heart."
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27-29.
Where: Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.
Principal cast: Lenny – Alycyn Pratt; Meg – Caitlin Smith; Babe – Emily Nolting; Chick – Mindy Rude; Doc – Caleb Blackerby; Barnette – Stephen Planalp. Sharon Andrews is director.
Tickets: Adults, $12; seniors and students, $10 (online at millracetheatre.org or at Mill Race Center). At The Door: Adults $15, seniors and students $12.
Plot: The tragic comedy relates the story of the three Magrath sisters, Meg, Babe, and Lenny, each aiming to discover bits of herself. They reunite at Old Granddaddy’s home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, after Babe shoots her abusive husband in the stomach. Past resentments bubble to the surface as the sisters are forced to deal with assorted relatives and past relationships while coping with Babe’s latest incident. Each sister is forced to face the consequences of the "crimes of the heart" she has committed.