Directed by Janine Watson
Imperial Artistry in association with Red Line Productions
Old Fitz Theatre
129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season: 15 March – 8 April
It can be quite a thrill to see women behave badly. Conditioned from a young age to be 'good girls' that stay in line, don't speak too loudly and look 'pretty', a woman who dares to ignore this social contract of sorts tends to face backlash in both private and public realms of her life. Female emotions are demonised and set aside as 'hysteric', female desire and ambition is second to that of her man, and a woman without children? - well that's just plain unnatural. These are the forces at play in Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart, brought to life in Janine Watson's production at the Fitz. In 1974, Hazlehurst, Mississippi, three sisters flout social expectations with a healthy dose of bad behaviour - but believe me, they experience the inevitable ramifications that occur as a woman steps out of her place.
Jonathan Hindmarsh's set design is picture perfect, with an acute eye for detail that radiates authenticity. When the characters enter, I continued to be convinced that the play was set in the 1950s (in spite of some hair and make up execution that felt a little contemporary) - this place felt like old southern charm. This perception was shattered when Babe's sister Meg finally enters the stage, straight out of Hollywood, in distinctly 70s attire. Disregarding the initial sense of setting dysphoria I felt, this choice seems to highlight the slow backwardness of their Mississippi town - the land that time forgot.
This production achieves a very strong sense of past history in the relationship of each of the sisters, as well as with the other townspeople. This is critical to the achievement of this play as the significance of each individual's story resides in the journey they have taken already. Also effective is the vivid depiction of characters that are never seen on stage - this contributes to a sense of depth within this community and the play's world. Most engaging, I felt, was Renee Small in the role of Babe. Having just shot her husband and with no interest in concealing that fact, Small brings authenticity and rawness to the part, capturing this most effectively in the show. This allows for great empathy with Babe as the audience can feel a palpable struggle with her dismal circumstances. As a cast, the Mississippi accent was tackled admirably yet with inconsistencies. I enjoyed seeing the development of unity between the three sisters, initially observing their pointed separateness and ultimately being brought together through difficult situations and increased understanding. To get to that point there's a great deal of angst that is waded through with good natured humour, as so often occurs in life - crisis and humour run hand in hand.
Janine Watson's production is a touching piece that challenges common perceptions of acceptable female behaviour. We see quirky and distinctive women bear the brunt of an unkind world. They bear this in a continued fashion - their issues remain unresolved - and yet the three women, sitting around a birthday cake at the play's close are a picture of hope. And hope is a rarified commodity.