Beth Henley’s Crimes of the heart is a highly acclaimed tragicomedy that focuses on the lives and loves of three sisters reunited by one horrific act of violence. It was winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award nominee for Best Play, as well as the aspiration for a multi-Academy Award nominated film starring Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange.
Crimes of the Heart is now playing in a new production at Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre. Directed by Janine Watson (Dolores, Three Sisters), winner of the prestigious 2016 Sandra Bates Directors Award, the production stars Caleb Alloway (The History Boys, Home and Away), Rowan Davie (Infinity Taster, Angels in America), Amanda McGregor (The Crucible, Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories), Laura Pike (Holding the Man, Hoges), Renae Small (Mary: The Making of a Princess, When the Rain Stops Falling) and Amy Usherwood (Away, Shortland Street).
As well as being one of the stars of the production, Caleb Alloway is also a co-producer of Crimes of the heart. Alloway is well known to Australian television audiences as Will Zannis in the Seven Network’s Home and Away. But he has a host of TV credits including Underbelly Razor and Janet King, as well as having hosted two seasons of Imagination Train on the Nine’s Gem network. On stage, his credits include Paris Letter for Darlinghurst Theatre and Low Level Panic at the Old Fitz, and on film, he’s appeared in Science Fiction V1, Dick’s Clinic and Shock Room. And if that’s not enough, Alloway runs a successful music school and a production company called Imperial Artistry, which is producing this new production of Crimes of the heart in association with Red Line Productions.
Theatre People had the good fortune of stealing some of Alloway’s time recently to find out more about what we can expect from Crimes of the heart.
TP: Can you tell me about your experience coming across the work and why you decided to bring it to the stage in a new production?
Caleb Alloway: The underbelly of family tragedy is what first drew me to Crimes of the Heart. Henley has created three complex and nuanced characters. Reading the play for the first time was a roller coaster. I laughed and I cried. My heart broke. And in the final moments I was left with a feeling of hope. I came from a large family (eight brothers and three sisters) and there is no love stronger and more imperfect than that of siblings. The core of Crimes of the Heart is the bond of these imperfect women to survive together, no matter what. So much of our interfamily relationships define who we are as three-dimensional, fragile, crazy beings.
I first came across Crimes of the heart when I was cast as Barnett Lloyd in a Larry Moss workshop. Fate would have it that the other actress had to pull out and I was assigned a new scene partner and play. Three years later my co-producer and good friend, Renae Small, came to me saying she wanted to put the play on and play the leading role of Babe. The next step was forming our team. Given the play is about three strong women we felt it was important to have a female director. Janine Watson was the perfect choice and the only choice (in our minds). And so the process began. This was early 2016. It’s now March 2017 and we’re in opening week. It’s been a journey to say the least.
TP: What makes Crimes of the heart a great play?
CA: Beth Henley won a Pulitzer Prize for this play. That is enough in itself.
Playwright Beth Henley says that “every character has a secret, a greatest fear, and a greatest dream.” Her characters tell the truth in gory detail, and her comedy is based on an empathic understanding of her characters. Ultimately, each character is at a cross road in their life, fighting to make sense of everything, and some are even fighting to stay alive.
TP: What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of bringing Crimes of the heart to the stage?
CA: I think I underestimated the mammoth of the specifics which are needed for this world to come to life on stage – set in the 70s, in a beautiful two-storey home which was probably built in the early 1900s. Beth Henley was very specific in her detailing of the kitchen living space (where the action takes place) and props. Sourcing a design team to bring this to life was the key to making this project work. Our designer, Jonathan Hindmarsh, had a massive hurdle to jump and has done a sublime job. However, two days out from opening, and we are still sourcing things – the joys of independent theatre.
TP: How have you found the experience of bringing this work to life in the intimate Old Fitz space?
CA: The play is set in three acts. Time spans over just 16 hours. A small and intimate space like the Fitz is perfect for the southern home kitchen. You feel as though you are a fly on the wall, privy to every bit of detail.
TP: We’ll finish by asking you to give us your best sales pitch. Why should theatregoers come along and see Crimes of the heart at the Old Fitz?
CA: The comic southern-gothic story of three sisters in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Set in 1974, five years after Hurricane Camille, which tore the town apart. Three very different sisters come together in a family crisis.
Comedy comes out of reality, and it is through comedy that we are able to cope with the real issues that life deals us. Crimes of the heart addresses these heavy issues in a very truthful way. It is a play about families and the joys and sorrows that only families can share. It is a play about love, and its never-ending power to mend a broken heart.
CRIMES OF THE HEART – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling Street (Cnr Cathedral Street), Woolloomooloo
Season: Playing now until 8 April
Times: Tues-Sat 8:15pm, Sunday 6:30pm
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes (including interval)
Price: $42 Adult, $35 Concession, $30 Previews and Cheap Tuesday
*The New Fitz play Binary Stars and Best Lives by Samantha Hill and inspired by Crimes of the Heart will play March 28 – April 8, directed by Michael Abercromby. Shows start at 6:30pm Tues-Sat and at 4:30pm on Sun and runs for approximately 40mins with no interval. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.redlineproductions.com.au