In Crimes of the Heart at the Alley, There's Conflict and Humor in an Attempt to Move On

Bree Welch in rehearsal for Crimes of the Heart at the Alley Theatre.
Bree Welch in rehearsal for Crimes of the Heart at the Alley Theatre. Photo by Melissa Taylor
It's a play that starts with a literal bang. We're in Mississippi in the mid-'70s at the home of the Magrath sisters and Babe Magrath has just shot her husband. The reason is both confounding and simple: She didn't like his looks.

Sisters Lenny and Meg circle the wagons; Meg flies in from Los Angeles while Lenny is already there, but somewhat forgotten. It's her birthday but in all the hubbub, who can remember (except Lenny).

It's the Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart by playwright Beth Henley about to go on stage at the Alley Theatre.

Bree Welch (Alley's A Christmas Carol, Main Street Theater's The Revolutionists) plays Chick Boyle who is a first cousin to the Magrath sisters. She lives next door to the home owned by the grandfather of the sisters and provides a "contrast" to them, as she puts it.

"I kind of come in like a hurricane on a lot of the scenes and sort of stick my nose into everyone's business and have sort of strong opinions.about the way things should be. I kind of represent that very strong Southern sensibility that things are a certain way and you have to follow the rules. She really kind of enjoys that." All three sisters are aggravated by her, Welch says, although Lenny Magrath played by Melissa Pritchett (Describe the Night, The Mousetrap) tolerates Chick the best.

Welch says she loves her character. "She’s sort of bigger than life at times and really loves to push people’s buttons. Kind of likes to take ownership of things. There’s kind of this great power of having that command and control in a scene."

"I love Chick because there’s also a texture that Beth Henley writes. She kind of represents an older sensibility of the female that I think the future of the females in this play, they want to get away from" Welch says.

"The sisters want to live by their own rules. They don't want to do what their grandfather has tried to force onto them. They want to explore the world and not live up to that older, Southern mentality," Welch says. "So Chick she's very female. She likes to get dressed up and look her best and and make sure every hair is in its right place, her makeup is perfect. Nothing can be embarrassing or tacky. Everything has to be kind of controlled by her. I love playing someone with that much structure  in that she can just do what she wants because she's so empowered by that femininity.

As it happens, the play opens with this horrible embarrassment — namely the killing. What's ahead means bad publicity for Chick, a member of the Ladies Social League.

Playwright and director Theresa Rebeck (Alley's Fool, All My Sons) directs an all local cast which also includes  acting Company members Dylan Godwin (Twelfth Night, The Mousetrap) as Barnette Lloyd and Jay Sullivan (Quack, Holmes and Watson) as Doc Porter. Local actors Chelsea Ryan McCurdy (A Christmas Carol, All My Sons) as Meg Magrath and Skyler Sinclair (AD Players: Around the World in 80 Days, Harvey) as Babe Botrelle round out the group.

Because this is set in the mid-'70s, a lot of the conflict is because one couldn't reach another on the phone, Welch says. The play continues to be performed, she says, because the writing is so good. "It really does hold up. The relationships hold up. The conflict holds up. The humor holds up." She credited Interim Artistic Director James Black with selecting this play for the 2018-19 season, recognizing that it will appeal to audiences today.

Performances are scheduled for April 12 through May 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m.  Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $26-$79.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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