From left: The three Magrath sisters — Babe (Karly Ross). Lenny (Kimberley Frixel) and Meg (Marsha Blom)

From left: The three Magrath sisters — Babe (Karly Ross). Lenny (Kimberley Frixel) and Meg (Marsha Blom)

Southern nights and (bad) days

"Crimes of the Heart" at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook

Barry Coulter

T he atmosphere can be stifling in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, especially if you’ve been having a very bad day like the Magrath sisters have. Really, more like an ongoing series of bad days.

Lenny, Meg and Babe find themselves with their backs to the wall in “Crimes of the Heart,” Paul Kershaw’s latest production currently running at the Key City Theatre. It’s Southern Gothic set in the 1970s, and in Southern Gothic, the drama lurks in living rooms, and looms large in what’s unsaid.

“Crimes of the Heart” is on the surface a comedy — the adventures of the three eccentric, charming Magrath sisters and their reaction to this “very bad day.”

But underneath the laughter, of which there is plenty, there is a strong current of tragedy. The trauma of the sisters’ past is revealed — namely, their mother’s much talked about suicide (she hanged the cat along with herself, a macabre riddle everyone is still trying to decipher). Upon their mother’s death, the girls were adopted by their grandfather, who is himself currently hospitalized.

Lenny is the eldest Magrath sister, the mother hen, lonesome and unfulfilled, her life symbolized by her “deformed ovary,” a symptom oft discussed by her sisters. She maintains a precarious home in her grandfather’s house.

Meg, whose singing career seems to have bottomed out, is back at home to help out, but she’s bringing with her an uncomfortable secret of her own.

Then there’s Babe, lively, loving and passionate, who cut short her destiny as chattel by shooting her powerful husband in his belly. Why? Because she didn’t like his looks, she says. Prison is in the offing, but she’s out on bail, and represented by the infatuated boyish lawyer Barnette Lloyd, who is carrying a “personal vendetta.”

The sisters’ nemesis is their cousin Chick, a prying busybody who never lets the sisters forget that they’re just this side of trailer trash.

Rounding out the cast is Doc Porter, Meg’s old flame from the past, now married but still neighbourly.

Each of the three Magrath sisters has been betrayed by their passions in a different way, and each is forced to face the “crimes of the heart” she has committed.

“Crimes of the Heart,” written by Beth Henley and directed by Paul Kershaw, features a number of new faces on the local theatrical scene, who give us a deep look into the complexities of the human heart.

The play continues its run at the Key City Theatre continues Thursday, Jan. 21, through Saturday, Jan. 23. Tickets are $20, showtime 7:30 p.m.