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Crimes and Misdemeanors

Chamberlayne is uneven in “Crimes of the Heart.”

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Crimes of the Heart” is a dark comedy about three Southern sisters reuniting at their grandparents home to regroup following the latest in a string of dysfunctional misfortunes. The script is rife with kooky material and eccentric bits that should invoke riotous laughter. But in Chamberlayne Actors Theatre's production, it all feels less comical than dry.

The Magrath sisters, dowdy Lenny (Kelley Schoger), black sheep Meg (Rebecca Anne Muhleman) and sweet Babe (Alison Haracznak) and their busybody cousin, Chick (Crystal Oakley) are stereotypical icons of Southern womanhood -- martyr, megaslut, nutcase and snob. Playwright Beth Henley carefully constructs each with enough idiosyncratic characteristics that they should be funny by just being themselves but the cast plays more at being the characters and mood than trusting Henley's genius. How this wonderfully dysfunctional group of women can come off as so uninteresting as noted by the lack of laughter throughout two-thirds of the play is a testament to a community-theater level of direction and talent.

The laughter meter does rise in the last act of the show as the actors seem to have relaxed a bit. Schoger in particular becomes more engaging and raises the bar significantly, earning several positive audience reactions as she overcomes her perceived handicap of shrunken ovaries.

For all its problems, the production values are strong. Set designer Lin Heath provides a wonderful interior rendition of the Magrath family home with ample kitchen space and perfectionist attention to detail. Gretta Daughtrey's beautiful lighting is simply amazing especially considering the few lights used to illuminate the stage. Buddy Bishop does a great job with the sound, offering convincing boiling water, cars coming and going and crashing ceilings to enhance the action.

Overall this take on “Crimes of the Heart” is OK. If nothing else it offers a pleasant diversion and most likely will invoke a serious desire for fresh squeezed lemonade and birthday cake.

“Crimes of the Heart” runs on selected dates through Feb. 7 at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, 319 N. Wilkinson Road. Tickets are $15-$20. For information, go to cattheatre.com or call 262-9760.

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