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Star Bar History: Crimes of the Heart, 2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Bar's 'Crimes' is community theater at its best
The GazetteDecember 1, 2000 

by WARREN EPSTEIN 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Theater critic Mark Arnest is on vacation, so film and TV critic Warren Epstein filled in for him.

With "Crimes of the Heart," the Star Bar Players demonstrate what community theater can be - not a vanity exercise for the company, but a vibrant, relevant and tremendously entertaining experience for the community.

The 30-year-old company gives this Pulitzer Prize-winning Southern family drama a professional, heart-felt treatment that had an opening-night audience alternately crying, laughing and cheering.

If you've seen the terrific 1986 film with Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange, you know the story. Three grown sisters - Lenny, Meg and Babe Magrath - unite at their childhood home in Hazelhurst, Miss., after Babe is arrested for shooting her abusive husband.

As the three share their insanities, jealousies and sexual exploits, we learn more about their individual weaknesses and the strength of the ties that hold them together.

This isn't an easy play to stage. It requires a confident director who knows how to move from a torrid hurricane of emotion one moment to a languid, pass-the-lemonade respite the next.

Ricky Vila-Roger, a veteran of Upstart Performing Ensemble, proves up to the task. His timing is right on. He has lines overlap when he wants speed and lets tense encounters stretch wordlessly, testing the audience's patience, when he wants to put on the brakes.

It helps, of course, that he has such a strong cast at his disposal.

Ellen Ottley, making her Colorado Springs debut, plays Lenny, the resentful oldest daughter who stayed behind to care for their ailing grandpa.

Ottley not only shows the greatest acting range, making both her quiet desperation and full-blown rage entirely believable, she also proves the most comfortable on stage. When she walks on, dropping her keys from her teeth onto the kitchen table, we get the sense that she's lived there all her life.

Kitty King, as Babe, the childlike youngest sister who's up on manslaughter charges, smartly underplays her performance. Her matter- of-fact style makes it all the more hilarious when she makes such darkly outrageous comments as this one about her mother's suicide: "I bet if she hadn't hung that cat with her, she wouldn't have had national coverage."

King also downplays the Southern accent, setting what should be a well-followed example among community-theater performers.

(A tortured accent is the surest sign of an amateur production.)

KatRyn Armstrong as Meg, the chain-smoking seductress and wannabe singer, has some trouble with her drawl in the first act, but finds it - along with the tremendous depth within her seemingly shallow character - in the second.

Palmer High School art-teacher Andrew Porter makes an impressive acting debut as Babe's lawyer, a Southern gentleman who bear a striking resemblance (in looks, voice and attitude) to a young Pat Boone.

Krysia Kubiak gets lots of laughs as the obnoxious town gossip, and while her comic instincts are strong, she needs to tone down the yelling.

The functional country-kitsch kitchen set by Vila-Roger and Mary Miller is noteworthy for its working faucet. It's not often you see so much effort put in merely so a character can get water at the sink instead of from a pitcher.

But it's typical of Vila-Roger's attention to detail.

If Star Bar keeps up this kind of quality, it may last another 30 years.