Monday, January 31, 2011

Fine performances dominate Crimes of the Heart

by Brad Quinn

Cedar Rapids - A few notes to begin this review. I was in a production of Crimes of the Heart when ICCT did the show several years ago, playing the role of Doc. In fact I believe if you look far enough back in this blog, you’ll find an article about it (though oddly enough, not a review of that show). I had a great experience with that show, and I will try not to let it color my review.

Also, this was the first time I had visited TCR since they moved back into their old home. What I found was a state of the art theater facility that kind of made me turn green with envy. If some our local Iowa City theaters had half the resources that TCR enjoys, we would consider ourselves truly blessed. So I will also try not to let my jealousy of their fantastic home color my review.

As with most productions, the first thing you see when you walk in the theater is the set. And without a doubt, this was a very well done set. The entire play is contained within this one set, a kitchen in an old house. This is a fine choice by the author, because this play is about family and their relationship to each other more than anything else. The kitchen always seems to be the heart of a family, the place where people tend to gather and talk. This kitchen was done in such a way that it really suggested the kind of old family home you would imagine you’d find in a small southern town. Glass cupboards, knickknacks, vinyl floor tiling, and a sink that actually worked! You could really imagine what the rest of the house looked like; it'd be the same sort of home your grandparents lived in when you where a kid.

I did think the set was actually a bit too large. This is not an action packed play, and there was too much area for the actors to use. I thought a slightly smaller set would have given the play a more intimate feeling. And I am not quite sure about the choice of having a small flight of stairs down from the “back door” which presumably led out onto a porch…I’ve never seen a house with a sunken kitchen before. It seemed strange, but otherwise the set was ideal for the show.

The play itself is two days in the life of the Magrath sisters, three 20-something women who are each dealing with some major life issues. As the play opens we meet Lenny, the oldest sister and the glue which holds the family together, played by Angie Toomsen. She is having a birthday, and she is by herself. The director chose to use some opening music for this scene which I found a bit unnecessary. Rather than let the audience slowly clue in to the fact that Lenny is lonely and sad and having a birthday, the lyrics sort of hammer that home to you right away.

Ms. Toomsen delivers a strong performance as Lenny, possibly the best out of the ensemble, although that would be hard to say for sure as the entire cast was very good. TCR veteran Sarah Jarmon played the middle sister Meg and even though she was actually quite ill that night, still managed to inject Meg with the right amount of energy and vivaciousness. The youngest sister, Babe, was played by Katy Slaven, the only one of three which I had not had the pleasure of seeing perform before. Babe is a tough role, because she has to be able to maintain a sort of youthful innocence and keep the audience’s sympathy even while revealing the dirtiest of laundry. Ms. Slaven does an admirable job at this, easily allowing the audience to believe that Babe was the beautiful, beloved, and sheltered baby of the family.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by three secondary characters: Barnette Lloyd, played by Justin Braden, Chick Boyle, played by Clare Duffy, and Doc Porter played by Alex Williams. Barnette is Babe’s lawyer and potential suitor. Mr. Braden was very enjoyable to watch, he has an infectious smile and made Barnette a very likeable character. I did, however, not really feel the chemistry that should have been there between him and Babe. Mr. Williams did a great job as Doc, Meg’s old lover, who has a small part but can be very challenging not to portray as a caricature. Ms. Duffy was wonderful as Chick, the cousin of the three sisters. Chick is sort of an antagonist figure in the play, and it would be easy to go overboard with that, but her performance made Chick seem like a real person.

Still, the play is really about the three sisters and their relationships with each other which, no matter how strained they get, are always held together by love. As I said before, this is not an action packed show. It mainly unfolds through simple conversation. In fact, especially at the beginning of the show, it can drag a bit. Which is not to say there are not some pretty comedic moments; however it sometimes seemed like they left some potential laughs on the table. I’m not sure if it was a choice not to accentuate the comedy in the script, but I did get the idea that maybe the actors hadn’t really considered the fact that the audience would be laughing at some points. At the very beginning of the show there is a scene where Chick struggles to put on a very small pair of pantyhose which is very silly and funny and had the audience laughing out loud. Unfortunately, rather than hold for the laughter, the actors kept talking and I heard many people complain about the fact they missed a lot of dialogue because of it.

Projection was occasionally an issue for some actors. I sat in the back of the house and had no trouble hearing, but I could see how some people, especially older people, might have had a hard time understanding the dialogue. I also thought that some of the staging could have been better. A lot of time was spent by the actors facing each other, rather than the audience. It was often very difficult to see their faces, especially since Ms. Slaven’s hair was practically a curtain which hid the side of her face when she wasn’t facing outwards. Ms. Jarmon also had an issue with her hair, with long bangs that hid and shadowed her eyes, losing some of her expression.

This was further exasperated by the lighting, which tended to be a bit too dim. There were a few areas, especially on the right side of the stage, which had some dark zones. When the actors stood there, it was very difficult to see their expressions.

Other than those issues, though, this was a very solid production. I don’t think anybody left the theater disappointed. As always, the main success of a show relies on the performances of the actors, and these were fine performances indeed. If you are in the mood for some plain old-fashioned character driven theater, then you’d be advised to check out Crimes of the Heart.


Leslie Charipar said...

Thanks for the review, Brad! And I'm really glad you like our renovated space, but I would like to say something as it relates to our current facility. Please don't be jealous. If I had to choose between our new space WITH the floods or working in the old TCR WIHTOUT the floods of 2008 ever happening, I would choose the old TCR with no floods. What we went through to get the facility we have now I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Leslie Charipar said...

And by WIHTOUT I of course mean WITHOUT. I should have previewed my comment :).

Brad said...

Hah, yes I can understand that sentiment. However, since none of the Iowa City theaters have their own space, I think most of us would kill to have our own theater that was flooded rather than have nothing at all! :)
But yeah, it was a pleasure to see this show from the audience perspective.

Anonymous said...

Upon watching the closing performance of "Crimes of The Heart", I am befuddled why anyone would not enjoy this production. I've read Rob Cline's review and his criticism's, and I truly believe he's missed the point.

Who cares about "too much furrowed-brow whining" from Ms. Toomsen's portrayal of "Lenny". Lenny is a beaten-down "just turned 30" woman who's spent her distorted life trying to do what is right for her family. She feels alone and under-appreciated among her more lovely and talented sisters...taking care of their grandfather who took them in after their mother took her own life by hanging herself... and the family cat.

What I REALLY liked about this play, was how every little tid-bit about the family's past... was doled-out in pieces throughout the production. Yes, we find out early that their mother had hanged herself, but what's the deal with the family cat. Next, we find out she'd hung herself AND the family cat. Only to finally realize, that she'd hung herself AND the cat because she simply did not want to die alone. Heart wrenching? You bet.

Yes, I met a few people who left after the first act. "Too slow. Get to the point," seemed to be the sentiment. But, I suspect these theater-goers were looking for something along the lines of... Pirates of the Caribbean, which this play is NOT. It's slow, pondering, and the type of play that asks the viewer to lean forward and listen.

Everyone is solid in this production, especially Jarmon and Toomsen. Angie Toomsen is new to the TCR crowd and delivers the most heart-wrenching performance of them all as the down-trodden "Lenny". Ms. Jarmon is all-over-the-map as "Meg", as we watch her go from "I don't give a damn" to "Maybe I DO give a damn." However, I can see why Mr. Cline did not care for Ms. Slaven's portrayal of "Babe". Yeah... she is a little flat... but, how can one not enjoy her sliding across the kitchen floor in her socks, or crawling/hiding under the kitchen table? It made ME laugh and that's all I really care about. Just give me a "glimpse" into the character... that's all I ask... and the cast of "Crimes of The Heart" truly delivers on that point.

That's a LOT of dialogue for any actor to chew on. I tip my hat to the cast of "Crimes of The Heart." I cried at the end... that's how I measure the worthiness of ANY production in the Cultural Corridor.

Anonymous said...

You do realize that Rob Cline wrote that review for a different website, right?

This site's reviewer liked the show quite a bit...