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By Beth Henley

Allen Community Theatre

Director – Robin Daffinee Coulonge
Producer – Ginny Topfer
Stage Manager – Nancy Cecco
Assistant Director – John Pszyk
Set Design – Glenn Allen
Lighting Design – Martin Mussey
Costume Design – Alee Jones
Sound Design – Charlotte Taylor
Properties – Bridget Joyce

Lenny (Lenora Magrath) - Jennifer Stephens Stubbs
Meg (Margaret Magrath) - Penny Chinn
Babe (Rebecca Magrath Botrelle) - Tammy Partanen
Chick Boyle - Natalia Borja
Barnette Lloyd - Jonathan Dickson
Doc Porter - Robb Hudspeth

Reviewed Performance: 1/30/2016

Reviewed by Eric Bird, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Allen’s Community Theatre opened their 5th season in their new home with a thoroughly enjoyable performance of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart. Crimes of the Heart explores the lives and troubles of three sisters: Lenny, Babe and Meg. As the sisters return to their grandfather’s house in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, we discover new facts about Meg’s singing career, secrets emerge about Babe and her marriage, and Lenny starts to make some specific changes to her own life. Trouble ensues in this dark comedy as the storylines combine to create an engaging play about the three women and the consequences of the choices they have made.

Crimes of the Heart was the first play written by Beth Henley in 1978. When she finished the play she submitted it to several regional theatres without success. A friend of hers entered it, without her knowledge, into the Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville where it tied for 1st place and was performed in 1979 at the company’s annual festival of New American Plays. The play was then selected by numerous regional theatres for production the following season. Henley writes primarily about women’s issues and family in the southern US.

Upon entering the Allen Community Theatre, you are greeted by an extremely detailed set depicting the Magrath kitchen on Wednesday, October 23, 1974, designed by Glenn Allen. The main feature of this set was the dining room table, located in the center. On the left there was a front door, a stove, a counter with a sink that had running water, and a fridge. On the right was the entrance to the rest of the house, and a cot. The set had the definite appearance of a kitchen in the 1970’s with very bright yellow colors and a cluttered, lived in feel to it.

The costumes were designed by Alee Jones, creating a believable view into how people dressed in that time period. Lenny wore a very reserved outfit with a baggy, dark sweater and a long patterned skirt. This matched her shy, self-conscious personality very well. Meg was much more flamboyant with bright colors, a short skirt and long black boots. Babe wore very classy, ornate clothing with more expensive fabrics, matching shoes and accent jewelry; the designs were simple, helping to show that she is an innocent victim to the things her rich husband does. Barnette Lloyd had a brownish suit that was appropriate to the time period; while Doc presented a more outdoors feel with jeans, boots, and a button up shirt. Chick Boyle was wearing a floral dress that fit well with her character. The costumes worked very nicely, creating a believable moment in the 1970’s.

Charlotte Taylor designed the sound for the production. Though there were not many sound effects in this production, they were clear and authentic including a ringing telephone and boiling water. I appreciated the sounds that were used, though it would have been nice to have the sounds more localized on the stage, instead of through the main speakers.

The lighting as designed by Martin Mussey, was clear, working well with the costumes that the actors wore and portraying them in the best way possible. The show did not necessitate much from the lights, but I appreciated the consistency and the use of blue lights to help transition from some scenes to others.

Bridget Joyce designed the Properties, and paid attention to every detail. The props fit in perfectly for a 1970’s kitchen, with kitchen utensils, lemons, containers and plenty of soda for the sisters. I really liked how the soda bottles were glass; it was a very authentic detail to have. Additionally, the characters reference a specific book at one point in the play. I was happy to see that book with a clear title on stage as the characters used it.

Jennifer Stephens Stubbs played the part of Lenny, the older, more reserved sister who is trying to celebrate her birthday at the start of the show. Stubbs was fantastic in her role giving us a real character that people can understand and believe. Stubbs manipulated her voice very well to showcase her character’s shy, reserved nature. She also did well in using expressions to communicate even when her character had no lines. This was especially evident whenever some character had the audacity to make a mess in Lenny’s kitchen.

Meg, the singer that has a lot of personal issues, was played by Penny Chinn. Chinn portrayed a believable character that had an easy attitude about her that showed how deeply she cared for her siblings, yet also how independent she was. This was very apparent in how she interacted with the other characters on stage showing her as a rebellious middle sibling.

Tammy Partanen played the part of Babe, the youngest of the Magrath sisters. Partanen was masterful in her role, with great comedic timing and expression that both made you feel sorry for what she was going through, while also making you wonder what she is going to do next. Her tone of voice helped to show a simple, innocent young woman who’s had to go through a lot in her life. I was very impressed with how Partanen used this to help explain her character’s actions throughout the show.

The very irritating first cousin and neighbor Chick Boyle was played by Natalia Borja. Borja showed great comedic timing, while also managing to portray a character that was constantly butting in where the sisters didn’t want her.

The lawyer Barnette Lloyd was played by Jonathan Dickson. Lloyd had a very expressive performance that showed the passion his character felt. He would smile widely as he plotted his case and then stutter and blush as talked with his character’s crush.

Doc Porter, Meg’s former romantic interest, was played by Robb Hudspeth. Hudspeth had a very relaxed feel about him, with a constant limp that fit in perfectly with his character, though he did trip over some of his lines and lacked fluidity as he delivered them. Hudspeth served his purpose on stage, but could have added more to his character.

The blocking was always clear and realistic, showing the actors in the best possible light, while also keeping the audience engaged and the plot moving forward. Director Robin Daffinee Coulonge had some definite talent to work with, creating a story that felt and looked natural. I appreciated how the actors really used the stage. Since the entire play is spent in one room, I worried that things would feel cramped. Instead, the actors used the space well and created a dynamic feel to the show.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dark comedy. It managed to engage me both emotionally and intellectually with its plot twists and the bad choices that the sisters make and how they decide to try to fix them. I’d recommend checking it out; it is well worth the time.

Crimes of the Heart

Allen’s Community Theatre, 1210 E. Main St. Suite 300,Allen, TX 75002
Performances run through February 14th.

Show times:
Thursdays at 7:30PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, Sundays at 3:00PM.

TICKET PRICES for Crimes of the Heart
Adult - $21
Seniors (65+) - $19
Youth (Under 18) - $16

For info and to purchase tickets, go to or call 1-844-822-8849