GSC’s comic ‘Crimes’ will win your heart

GLOUCESTER — Dysfunction, thy name is Magrath.
And dysfunction can be a lot of fun in Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, “Crimes of the Heart,” which has a warm, winning production at the Gloucester Stage Company through Sunday.
“Crimes” is set in the small town of Hazlehurst, Miss. in 1974, five years after Hurricane Camille ravaged the area. Babe Botrelle (Melody Madarasz) , at 24 the youngest of the three Magrath sisters, has just been bailed out of jail after shooting her husband, allegedly because she “didn’t like his looks,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. Babe’s case is complicated, since she sat down and made a lemonade and drained it before deciding her husband needed help.
Lenny (Liz Hayes) is “celebrating” her 30th birthday alone, as is usually the case, since her “missing ovary” has made her an unfit companion for any man, and she is also mourning the loss of her beloved horse, Billy Boy, struck down by lightning.
Meg (McCaela Donovan), 27, who fled Mississippi for the West Coast and a singing career of uncertain status, seeing how she isn’t singing anywhere and is actually working for a pet food company, has returned home to aid babe in her crisis and see her grandfather.
In other words, situation normal in the Magrath household.
Each sister battles her own personal demons, weighted down by the baggage left from the suicide of their mother years ago, who hanged herself — and their cat — with the sisters being brought up their grandparents. Now Grandpa is wheezing towards the finish line as the play opens.

McCaela Donovan as Meg and Liam O’Neill as Doc in  the
Gloucester Stage Company’s production of “Crimes of the Heart.”

Hayes’ Lenny is the mother hen of the household, aware she is squandering any chance for her own happiness by being nursemaid to her dying grandfather, and desperate for any male attention, even it it comes from Doc Porter (Liam McNeill), Meg’s former boyfriend with whom Meg shares both a past, and an incident that cast a pall over Doc’s life.
McCaela Donovan, one of the rising stars on the Boston theater scene, is a vulnerable, wandering mess as Meg, drawn back to her past life with Doc, but afraid of the shackles of small-town life and the clucking tongues.
Melody Madarasz is a revelation as Babe, who finds her pleasures where she finds them, including a local teen or, in a pinch, her lawyer (Will Keary as Barnette Lloyd) who is more smitten with her than her case.
Lenni Kmiec is fine as the Magrath sisters’ cousin, Chick Boyle, who flaunts her membership in the Junior League and looks down on the sisters.
At times, the comedy is as black and dark as it comes, especially as Babe contemplates what she should do when incriminating photos are introduced into her already tenuous situation
Director Carmel O’Reilly, formerly of the late, lamented Sugan Theatre Company, finds not only the comedy of the piece, but its adjoining themes about loyalty and the ties that bind families together in both the best — and worst — of times.
“Crimes of the Heart” is a worthy finish to Gloucester Stage’s best season in years.
“Crimes of the Heart,” by Beth Henley. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. At the Gloucester Stage Company through Sept. 16.