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The laughter and tears of sisterhood

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Maine Masque produces Crimes of the Heart'

ORONO The University of Maine's student theater organization, the Maine Masque, is once again producing the final mainstage show of the school's theatrical season. Every year, a show has been put together entirely by students. Director, designers, actors all students.

The Maine Masque show is an opportunity to see the energy and passion of academic theater at its finest. It's a chance to see young people invigorated with knowledge and the spirit of exploration, doing something that they love for no other reason than that they love it.

This year, it's junior Nellie Kelly's turn at the helm. She is the director of the Maine Masque's production of Beth Henley's 'Crimes of the Heart.'

Lenny Magrath (Amelia Courtney) is the eldest of three sisters. She lives in the small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, serving as the primary caretaker of her ailing grandfather known to all as Old Granddaddy while residing in the same house she and her sisters grew up in.

The Magrath family no stranger to small-town scandal is confronted with yet another episode when youngest sister Babe (Sarah Smaha) stands accused of shooting her husband, local hotshot lawyer Zackery Botrelle. This results in not only self-serving disapproval on the part of cackling town busybody (and Magrath cousin) Chick Boyle (Gwendolyn Kotyk), but also the return of the prodigal daughter, middle sister Meg (Goldie Irvine). Meg left town to head west, aiming for Hollywood heights that she never quite achieved.

Babe gradually reveals to her sisters as well as her vendetta-fueled lawyer Barnette Lloyd (Brandon Clark) some of the rationale behind her attack on her husband, offering glimpses at a home life that was never as idyllic or as happy as it may have appeared. Meanwhile, Meg's reappearance after so long draws old flame Doc Porter (Elliot Chicoine) back into her orbit this despite the fact that he's now married with a family.

Through it all, the Magrath sisters turn inward while struggling to avoid turning against one another. Long-buried hurts and resentments force their way to the surface, leaving each sister to deal with their various affronts their crimes of the heart as best they can.

Director Kelly took on quite a project with this play 'Crimes of the Heart' is the sort of tragicomedy that can easily tip too far in one direction or the other. For the most part, however, she finds that balance within the script, never allowing either the comic or the dramatic elements to dominate the proceedings for an extended period. It's indicative of a light directorial touch the sort of touch that a show like this requires.

The Magrath sisters are the show's foundation. Courtney endows Lenny with a palpable sadness that never veers into maudlin territory. She's pitiable, but she never demands our pity; it's a fine and important distinction. Smaha's Babe comes off as naively wide-eyed, even when delving into some of the play's darker places. She captures the spirit of being the youngest in a very real way. And Irvine is a whirlwind of entitled energy as Meg, likeable despite an undercurrent of selfishness. There are deeper reasons behind Meg's need for the spotlight; Irvine informs that need with a necessary honesty.

Chicoine's Porter is filled with gentleness and regret; there's an engaging quiet strength about him. Clark brings an antic, frantic dynamic to the stage as Lloyd; his earnestness is front and center - and quite funny. And Kotyk's shrill Chick is a wonderful parody of the small-town social climb.

The production design impressed as well. The team of Katherine Keaton (set designer), Jessica Rogers (lighting designer), Sydney Walker (costume designer) and Douglas Kester (props master) came together to create a canvas on which the performers might paint this story. The sprawling house, the Southern flavor of the costumes, the innovative use of lighting (including a particularly interesting screen effect)all of it worked in tandem to provide an engaging and immersive environment.

Once again, the Maine Masque impressed with the quality of work it has produced. Is 'Crimes of the Heart' a perfect show? Not at all it has its flaws, of course; all shows do. But the flaws don't matter not really. What matters is the love and passion poured into the project by a team of talented and ambitious students. 

As always, the Maine Masque production came straight from the heart.

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