Seated, from left, Chick Boyle (Chris Tracey) offers advice to sisters Lenny Magrath (Barbara Anthony), Babe Botrelle (Tracy Borgatti), and Meg Magrath (Robin New) while, standing, from left, Barnette Lloyd (Harry Richards) and Doc Porter (Kevin Bangos) watch in Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart” at the Early Bird Dinner Theatre.
Life’s handed you a lemon or two or three? Make lemonade, the adage says.
So that’s what raven-haired Babe Botrelle (Tracy Borgatti), youngest of three Southern sisters in 1970s Mississippi, says she does after shooting in the stomach (“but I was aiming for his heart”) the lemon she married too young.
She goes into the kitchen, makes a pitcher of lemonade and facetiously offers her wounded husband a glass – starting the events depicted in Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer-winning “Crimes of the Heart” (the first play to win a Pulitzer before being produced on Broadway) now at the Early Bird Dinner Theatre in Clearwater.
Babe’s legal troubles bring middle sister, red-headed Meg Magrath (Robin New, in a rare and well-done performance), a struggling singer, home from L.A. to Mississippi where meek, graying-blonde oldest sister, Lenny (Barbara Anthony), has suppressed her own desires for love to become caretaker to the sisters’ grandfather, now in the hospital dying.
Rounding out the characters are cousin, Chick Boyle (Chris Tracey), who isn’t shy about anything, Doc Porter (Kevin Bangos), an old flame of Meg’s, and Barnette Lloyd (Harry Richards), Beth’s lawyer with his own personal and professional agendas.
As different as the colors of their hair, Henley’s three sisters have each responded differently to life’s lemons, and there have been plenty of those. From their father’s deserting them to their mother’s suicide (which made national news because she also hung the cat), Henley gives the sisters plenty to either cry about or laugh about. And they do both – sometimes at the same time – with macabre humor that borders on the absurd at times.
What they don’t do is to bounce and jiggle their way through bedroom farce humor, generally a dinner theatre staple. Aside from a panty-hose gag early on, the characters, plot, and humor of “Crimes of the Heart” all are more sophisticated than what the dinner theatre audiences – generally fraternal groups and clubs out for an evening meal, live music and stage play – may be used to seeing there, which seemed evident in some of the tentative reactions especially during the first act. Once the full-house audience realized they were being served prime rib instead of burgers and fries (not to say there isn’t a place for good burgers and fries), the silence was intense as the actors cajoled the audience into following the plot’s emotional twists and turns.
“Crimes of the Heart” plays through Feb. 26 at the Early Bird Dinner Theatre, 1411 N. Ft. Harrison Ave. in Clearwater. Dinner seatings are Thursday through Sunday at 4 p.m. with 11 a.m. matinees on Thursday and Saturday. Call 446-5898 for reservations. The buffet includes six hot entrees, various side dishes and salads, dessert, and beverage; a cash bar is available. The price is $14.95 plus tax ($16 total); no credit cards or checks.