MMAS ‘Crimes of the Heart’

From left, Hannah Clifford, Britney Verria and Chelsea Cavagnaro in the MMAS production of “Crimes of the Heart.”

MANSFIELD

Chelsea Cavagnaro, Hannah Clifford, Leanne Law and Britney Verria provide a compelling start to the Mass Music & Arts Society’s 19th season with their standout performances in Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart.”

Fasten your seat belt for this headfirst rush through a memorable week in the lives of the Botrelles, Boyles and Magraths. Set in 1950s rural Mississippi, “Crimes” is a family drama that pits three sisters and a cousin against each other. They explain, shout and cry their way through their crisis, discovering their own shortcomings and “crimes” along the way.

Chelsea Cavagnaro is simply riveting in her portrayal of Babe Magrath Botrelle, the youngest sister in the family. Babe is reluctant to reveal the details and events leading up to the moment that she shot her husband, just the day before. Cavagnaro is pitch perfect as Babe in her well-rehearsed frantic scenes, monologue phone calls and growing self-discovery.

Hannah Clifford powers through the antics of selfish and headstrong Meg Magrath with finesse. Meg has flown in to help manage Babe’s dilemma, interrupting her supposed Hollywood singing career. Clifford plays Meg as a shrewd, formidable opponent, whether in person or on the phone. She argues with anyone and everyone and then flashes a perfect, nervous smile, capturing Meg’s basic self-doubt.

Barnette Lloyd visits the home to work on Babe’s legal defense. Matthew Moos portrays the quintessential Southern lawyer in a white dress shirt and suspenders. He plays off Meg and then Babe, taking full advantage of their trust. Moos is larger than life, moving the plot along as he discovers and reveals the shocking details of Babe’s crime.

Oldest sister Lenny Magrath lives in the family home to take care of Granddad. As the play opens, it’s her 30th birthday and she’s determined to make a wish as she blows out a birthday candle. Britney Verria is a fine combination of a reserved Southern belle who hides a secret fire. She finally comes into her own in Act 2.

Cousin Chick Boyle lives next door and considers herself to be miles above the Magraths. Leanne Law is believably snooty and unbelievably well-groomed. She carries off the part with panache, barging through the back door at just the right moment. Finally, they’ve had enough, and she’s run out of the house with a broomstick.

Greg Smith rounds out the cast as Doc Porter, a former boyfriend of Meg’s. He’s heard she’s in town and wants to ask an important question: Why did she run away from him to Hollywood?

The answer is complex. Why do people do anything? Why is it so hard to figure out? Playwright Beth Henley’s answer seems to be that we all follow our heart.

“Crimes of the Heart” runs through Sept. 22 at the MMAS Black Box Theater, 377 North Main St., Mansfield. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $32 on weekends and $28 for Thursdays; senior tickets are $28 and student tickets are $20. (www.mmas.org, 508-339-2822)

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