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'Crimes of the Heart' starts tonight
Crimes of the Heart - Jim Beam.jpg
The MaGrath sisters, from left, Lenny (Rachel McGee), Babe (Sarah Carr), and Meg (Teri Nunley), have mixed emotions as they look through old family photos during a scene from “Crimes of the Heart.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning play opens tonight at Warren Arts, and runs through Sept. 5.

“Crimes of the Heart” is coming to Warren Arts beginning today, Friday, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m. Subsequent shows are Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Performances run the following weekend, Sept. 3-5, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7 p.m. and the Sunday show at 2 p.m.

“Crimes of the Heart” is “Steel Magnolias” with an edge. A trio of local teachers headline this production. Warren County High School art teacher Rachel McGee plays Lenny, the oldest sister in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, trying to keep the family from falling all to pieces. 

What makes her task difficult is that youngest sister Babe, played by Warren County Middle School English teacher Sarah Carr, has shot her own husband because “she didn’t like his looks.” Meanwhile, middle sister Meg, played by Warren County High School science teacher Teri Nunley, is at loose ends and has come back to town following a failed attempt to make it as a singer in Hollywood.

Talented actors round out the cast. Robert Elam plays lawyer Barnette Lloyd, who steps forward to take Babe’s case. Though fresh out of University of Mississippi law school, Elam as Lloyd insists he is right for the job, highlighting how he “made A’s in all the given courses.” He also has a personal vendetta against Babe’s husband and a soft spot for Babe herself, who once sold him a pound cake at a bazaar back in the day.

Doc Porter, Meg’s old flame, is played by Rob Nunley, who has yet to give anything less than a superb performance at Warren Arts. Doc and Meg in one scene reminisce about the old days and Hurricane Camille. 

“There never has been such a wind blowing,” the couple reflects on the hurricane and their past love. Audiences will be swept up in the nostalgia-tinged chemistry crackling forth between real-life married couple Teri and Rob Nunley in the scene.

Jennifer Swims plays the McGraths’ cousin Chick and brings forth the snootiness the role requires. Chick has no qualms about looking down her nose at the McGrath sisters and letting them know they do not quite measure up to her.

Dibrell School English teacher Marc Pyburn and Dibrell librarian Melissa Pyburn direct. Gregg Garrison has done up a set that evokes the 1970s, down to the floor tile, kitchen table, and old-time refrigerator. Chad McGee runs lights, and Kaden Hobbs handles sound.

Director Marc Pyburn says audience members will recognize people they know in the play’s characters. “Everybody when they come is going to notice their relatives in this show,” Pyburn says. “Seriously, if you’ve lived in the South your entire life, you will recognize people from your family reunions, Thanksgiving dinner, whatever.”

Continually running through the gamut of emotions the play requires of them has paid dividends for the actors. “I think we have become our characters,” Teri Nunley says. “In the beginning, we were just trying to get a feel for who our characters were. Now when we hit the stage, we are that person.”

“Crimes of the Heart” won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was made into a 1986 film starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek, and Sam Shepard.

Carr says, “There is the one main storyline, but each character has a story, every single one. There’s several stories that converge, and I think the whole audience will start to see that. What we saw as we were developing our characters is that there are a bunch of stories that are being told, and of course a bunch of dysfunction those stories cause. But in spite of it all, these people love each other.”