Monday, July 15, 2002

Actresses give heart to 'Crimes'

Theater review

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

        The Ovation Theatre Company ends its fourth season with Beth Henley's 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Crimes of the Heart. It's an outing that succeeds with engaging performances from its trio of lead women.

        Ms. Henley gives the Mississippi Magrath sisters the tragic but oddly funny quirkiness that has long been the Southern literary tradition of writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Conner and Tennessee Williams.

        Lenny McGrath (Amie Elizabeth Bello) is a frumpy homebody who is sad to be turning 30, sad that her horse was just struck by lightning, and sad about a love affair that didn't quite work out. Formerly-scandalous Meg (Deborah Ludwig) is just returned from Los Angeles where her singing career is going nowhere and where she had a nervous breakdown. Little sis Babe (Corinne Mohlenhoff) is in a world of trouble after shooting her slimeball husband because she “didn't like the way he looked.” And years before, mother Magrath hung herself in the basement’— after first hanging the family cat. Needless to say, these women have issues — and several secrets to unfold.

        Director Joe Stollenwerk's production starts a bit slowly and misses some of the early humor. Part of this is the fault of the talky script that is exposition for much of the first act. But the intensity and the drama pick up nicely late in the act and continues on in the second and third.

        Ms. Mohlenhoff is first rate as sweet but possibly insane Babe, seemingly as interested in making lemonade as she is in staying out of jail. Ms. Mohlenhoff is an expressive actor who has the ability to constantly show every thought that is racing through her character's mind. It's another of the standout performances that she has been giving around town the last two years.

        In her Cincinnati swan song (before moving to New York) Ms. Ludwig gives Ovation a memorable farewell as she captures the scarred nuances of Meg. Sometimes weary, sometimes rebellious, always believable, it's another performance well worth seeing.

        Lenny is the stable but frustrated glue that holds the Magrath family together. Ms. Bello's performance does the same, never better than when she finally breaks out with tearful uncontrollable laughter as the sisters discuss their grandfather's impending death.

        Solid support is provided by Rob Jansen as a wide-eyed eager lawyer, Patrick Downey as Meg's former flame, and Kristen Clippard as the Magrath's overbearing cousin.

        Crimes of the Heart, through Saturday, Ovation Theatre Company, Aronoff Center Fifth Third Bank Theater. 241-7469.


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