Crimes of the Heart, Village Players Theater. This Oak Park troupe has made several unsuccessful attempts over the years to elevate their shows to the level of professional non-Equity theater. With this production, their spot in the pro leagues is assured.
In Beth Henley's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart, three orphaned sisters are mired in an oppressive universe on the brink of change. But since this is 1974 Mississippi, the troubles of the domestic Lenny, rebellious Meg, and pampered Babe--who just shot her abusive husband--are customarily played for cheap hee-haw laughs instead of serious insights.
Director Virginia Smith and her cast resolutely mine the roles' subtext, however, amplifying the tragic dimension of the characters' limited choices. And their unhurried pace permits us to observe the progress of every timid resolution and tiny triumph in solitary battles to overcome despair. By the time the McGrath siblings have found, if not happiness, then strength to endure "the bad days" and find their place in an unfeeling society, our emotional investment in them is as intense as any we make in Chekhov's heroines, and their courage seems every bit as vast.