For some time, there’s been an awareness – and a concern – among performing arts professionals that women artists are underrepresented. We’ve all read about the paltry percentage of major studio films directed by women, or featuring dynamic leading roles for women, so much so that the success of Wonder Woman is being hailed – with wonder – as a potential breakthrough.
In the theatre, too, women have been fighting to be heard, as playwrights, directors, and actors. Studies have documented the paucity of plays written by women being produced at the nation’s theatres, and the disproportionate number of good male roles versus female ones.
However, for a brief period in the 1980s, it seemed as if the trend might run the other way. A number of plays, written by women, with juicy roles for female actors, made a splash on Broadway, and from there spread to theatres across the country. Marsha Norman’s Night, Mother; Nell Dunn’s Steaming; and Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others, The Heidi Chronicles, and The Sisters Rosensweig are a few of the titles which spring to mind.
One of the earliest and best was Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart. The author’s first professionally-produced play, it debuted at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979, opened on Broadway in 1981, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was later made into a star-studded film for which Ms Henley wrote the script and was nominated for an Oscar.
As the play opens, Babe (Megan Gainey) has just been sprung from jail after shooting her husband because she “didn’t like his looks.” Meg (Robin Long), who’s been living in Hollywood pursuing a singing career, returns with her career dreams in tatters, and having survived a stay in rehab after attempting suicide. Lenny (Jennifer Cannon), the oldest and ostensibly the sanest, the one who’s been taking care of Granddaddy, frets that she’ll never get a man due to a shrunken ovary, and celebrates her birthday – which everyone else has forgotten – by sticking a candle in a cookie and making a wish.
To call the female roles in Crimes of the Heart “juicy” would be an understatement of the first order, and director Luke Yankee has wisely encouraged his actresses to go a little crazy – which is exactly what’s needed.
As is always the case at International City Theatre, the tech elements are splendid: the set by Pete Hickok, the lighting by Stacy McKenney, the costumes by Kim DeShazo, and the sound by Dave Mickey.
Crimes of the Heart
Written by Beth Henley
Directed by Luke Yankee
Through June 25
International City Theatre
300 East Seaside Way
Long Beach, CA 90802
Tickets: 562-436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org