Comedy, tragedy and everything in between – ‘Crimes of the Heart’ opens at WICA

Posted in Feature, Theater and Dance

Whidbey Life Magazine
Feb. 7, 2013

There’s so much to be interested in when considering Beth Henley’s play “Crimes of the Heart.” Henley was the first woman to win the Pulitzer for Drama in 23 years, which was 1981, and her play was the first ever to win before opening on Broadway.

Melanie Lowey, Ahna Dunn-Wilder and Katie Woodzick play the quirky McGrath sisters in Beth Henley's award-winning play, "Crimes of the Heart" at WICA in Langley. (Jim Carroll photos)

Melanie Lowey, Ahna Dunn-Wilder and Katie Woodzick play the quirky McGrath sisters in Beth Henley’s award-winning play, “Crimes of the Heart” at WICA in Langley. (Jim Carroll photos)

But the best thing is that she created four incredibly interesting, resonant female characters in this comic tragedy that takes place in the deep, southern atmosphere of Hazlehurst, Mississippi in the 1970s. The three McGrath sisters’ reunite at their childhood home, where a dark sadness is a continuous underlying note during the often hilarious, sometimes poignant, often daffy series of conversations, conflicts and epiphanies each character experiences during the course of the play.

These three very different sisters struggle to make sense of their lives, including the responsible Lenny, who has sacrificed herself to care for their ailing grandfather; carefree Meg, who left behind her family and lover to pursue a singing career that never happened; and childlike, rebellious Babe, who seems oblivious to the consequences she’ll have to face for shooting her abusive husband.

Rose Woods directs the play, which opens Friday, Feb. 8 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley. It’s not hard to imagine why she would want to direct “Crimes of the Heart.” It’s hard to find a juicier play for deep, emotional resonance laced with wacky dysfunction, plenty of comic relief and an irresistible echo of sadness that somehow relates to all of us. It seems familiar in a melancholy way.

“I think I identify with the character, Lenny, deeply,” Woods said.

“Lenny has always been the caregiver of her family and those around her. She takes care of everything – possibly to the exclusion of her own happiness.”

Woods assured me she wasn’t unhappy, but she’s got a few things in common with Lenny, including having lived in the south for a time, which has fed into her special fascination with that southern gothic humor. Sure, “Crimes of the Heart” is a comedy, but it’s a fragile one. Lenny, Meg and Babe, all carry around their own share of fragility that is probably one of the most difficult traits to capture in acting. The thing about acting, about any art form, is that the process is as interesting as the final piece.  I asked the actors to talk about what unfolded for them in trying to find these characters. Melanie Lowey started with her portrayal of Lenny.

Lenny, Babe and Meg are the three sisters in "Crimes of the Heart" opening Feb. 8 and through Feb. 23 in Langley.

Lenny, Babe and Meg are the three sisters in “Crimes of the Heart” opening Feb. 8 and through Feb. 23 in Langley.

“The cast and director have discussed at length what being in Mississippi in the 1970s means for all of the characters as individuals,” Lowey said.

“We all have rich back stories that help me to immerse myself in the truth of being Lenny. This is a rich, layered, real story, and in order to play it well, I have to know my character deeply, without casting my modern perspective and judgment upon her,” she said.

Lowey’s challenge is to create the aura of a “spinster” ripe with insecurities and a certain wackiness, who avoids pitfalls by remaining busy.

Katie Woodzick said she hardly ever plays characters like Meg. Meg lives with fearless abandon, which is, ironically, what Woodzick said is scary about playing her.

“She takes what she wants and lives unapologetically.  She also has men ‘always falling in love’ with her, which is a problem that I have never personally experienced, but might frighten me, as well,” Woodzick said.

But, having an empathetic director in Woods helped her find what she needed to overcome her fears about going to some of those unhinged places in Meg during the process.

“I was actually crying.  It was the first time I allowed myself to be that vulnerable in a rehearsal,” Woodzick said.

Ahna Dunn-Wilder, who plays Babe, said it’s been fascinating to discover the depths of the character, a character who, she said, has this incredible passion for just about everything in her life.

“Babe lives in this sort of altered state, a dream state, both because of her personality and also due to the trauma she has experienced. As an actor this sort of character can be scary to play because it is easy to get lost. It is so scary to lose control and just be there in the moment as a character,” Dunn-Wilder said.

Woods said she couldn’t have asked for a better cast of honest actors.

“Every rehearsal is a discovery and they each continue to come to the table bringing something powerful and insightful,” she said.

“I have loved every blessed moment of this experience. Now I think we’re ready to share it with the community.”

Rounding out the cast are Gail Liston as Chick Boyle, Damien Cortez as Doc Porter and Michael Morgen as Barnette Lloyd. The “Crimes of the Heart” creative team also includes David Gignac (set design), Valerie Johnson (costume design), Tyler Raymond (sound design) and Michelle Durr (stage manager).

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays from Friday, Feb. 8 through Saturday, Feb. 23.

Ticket prices range from $15 to $22. Get tickets online at, by phone at (360) 221-8268, (800) 638-7631 or by visiting the box office at 565 Camano Ave. in Langley.

(Pictured at top, Katie Woodzick as Meg McGrath/Jim Carroll photo)


Don’t miss the opening of the “Abstract/Semi-Abstract Exhibit” in the lobby of the theater with a reception from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday. Feb. 8 to coincide with the “Crimes of the Heart” opening night. WICA presents a new fine arts exhibit in its lobby with the opening of each play of its theater season. Local artists included in the show are Francy Blumhagen, Judith Burns, Richard Egstrom, Tom Hanify, Barbara Kelly, Steve Marts, Anna Mastronardi, Earl Olsen, Sue Owen, Laura Schmidt, Karen Schroeder, Gaylen Whiteman, Mark Skullerud and Jim Wills.


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