IF YOU GO
What: Southern gothic tale about a dysfunctional Mississippi family
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 19
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com
The Naples Players tackle a particular brand of crazy this holiday season with “Crimes of the Heart,” a Southern Gothic melodrama that reaches for both laughter and tears and too often comes up short on both counts.
Beth Henley’s black comedy is the tale of a dysfunctional Mississippi family — a Southern fried mix of attempted murder, suicide, death by lightning and assorted cracked-out familial quirks that come standard in the old Confederacy.
Three sisters — of varying degrees of sanity — reunite in their hometown after various tragedies (including the attempted murder of one husband) and try to sort out their lives.
The kooky personalities of “Crimes” demand outsized performances to lift them off the page — they’re written as “Characters” with a capital “C” — and director Annie Rosemond simply doesn’t get that wattage. Her cast — particularly the men — seems out of tune with the rhythm of the dialogue and the underlying humor of the piece. Obvious innuendoes such as “My, he’s grown” are delivered with little dramatic flair and thus get barely a chuckle.
Rosemond had many of the same issues in her previous production for the Naples Players, March’s “Dinner With Friends,” which suffered from a similar inability to focus the emotional ebb and flow of the piece. Minus the character-driven subtleties, the acting comes across a bit mechanical.
“Crimes” is meant to be an exploration of inner demons and childhood hurts through present-day crises, but little of that psychology leaks through. The opening night performance just never caught fire, although the second act improved on the first, with the audience absorbing at least some of the humor and pathos. Henley’s story should be strong enough to keep audiences engaged as the cast feels its way into the characters.
Mai Puccio (Lenny Magrath), Victoria Diebler (Meg Magrath) and Ariana da Frota (Babe Botrelle) play the sisters three at the heart of this dish of gumbo. The trio is best when they’re on stage together, pooling their energy in shared sisterly lunacy. A second-act scene where they argue about childhood hurts and try to find a date for Puccio’s spinster sister is one of the night’s bright spots, as is a broom chase around the kitchen.
The wandering accents bother me almost as much as anything else; the play honestly seems better when the actors aren’t distracted trying to do the “ya’ll” thing. Half the time, I thought the cast was saying “daiquiri” when they mean to say “Zachary,” one of the unseen characters — and I’m a native Southerner.
Todd Potter’s set — one huge Southern kitchen — is interesting. The linoleum floor is spot on (I think my parents had that pattern), but the pale green walls and wooden cabinets seem plain and don’t exactly scream “country” to me.
Joan Laughlin’s costumes are hit-and-miss — almost as if she’s not too sure of who her characters are. Her biggest success is a series of buttoned-up blouses and old-fashioned fabrics that work great for Puccio’s prim spinster. I also liked da Frota’s black-and-white print with a pink sash, but it seems awfully chic for 1974.
“Crimes of the Heart” is a smartly written, wonderfully told story about sisterhood, love and a particular brand of crazy that seems to flourish along with the kudzu in the South. The show has a lot of potential and the cast seems willing to explore it.