The East West Players is quickly becoming one of my favorite theatre groups (and venues) in Los Angeles. After seeing the well-crafted adaptation of the Scott Heim novel Mysterious Skin and now with their current production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Crimes of the Heart, they are a theatre to be reckoned with. Starring a talented collection of actors, Crimes of the Heart is the story of the Magrath sisters who all come together in Mississippi to tend to their youngest, Babe (Maya Erskine.) Babe has been accused of trying to murder her husband for the simple reason that she “just didn’t like his stinkin’ looks.”
The three gather at the home of Lenny (Elizabeth Liang) the shy, awkward middle sister who has just turned thirty and is swiftly becoming an old maid. Arriving from Hollywood, older sister Meg (Kimiko Gelman) saunters in smoking her way through conversations about her life in the City of Angels where she was intent on becoming a singer. While the three sisters report on where their lives are at and deal with their own interpersonal issues, cousin Chick (Hiwa Bourne) keeps interrupting the proceedings with her endless town gossip and thoughts about Babe’s predicament. On the sidelines are Doc Porter (Tim Chiou) an old paramour of Meg’s, and Barnette Lloyd, the young lawyer entrusted to Babe’s case.
The actual murder case isn’t the focus of the play, however. While we do find out motivation and it is implied where it will all end up, this is a play about three sisters finding their way through disappointments and faded hopes. The three main actresses are excellent in their roles. Elizabeth Liang, last seen in Mysterious Skin, is the show’s soul and she plays it beautifully, inelegant as the character can be. Kimiko Gelman slathers on that southern drawl to great effect as Meg, whose disillusionment with her absent career has caused her to find other ways to fill the void in her life. Lastly, Maya Erskine as Babe shows the plucky innocence of someone who didn’t want to put up with her husband’s crap anymore, but who doesn’t totally get why her extreme actions aren’t justifiable.
With a mother that killed herself for “having a bad day,” these three siblings come to realize that the bad days happen. It’s how you deal with them that makes all the difference. And how you cling to those that you are closest to is how you make it through them.
We’ve all had bad days. Whether it is a break-up, the realization that your career isn’t where you want it to be, or outside influences as intense as the death of a loved one or as infuriating as a busted car.
For me, this year was full of very bad days, but the funny thing of it all is that I feel I’m in a better place emotionally than I have been in years. 2010 began with my best friend moving away to Boston. Fifteen years this man was by my side as my constant companion. For five of those years he was my partner and for ten years after that he was like my platonic husband. Never have I met someone I connected so well with and could go to for anything. So when he decided to take some time away from Los Angeles, I was devastated. After driving across country with him, we arrived at my mom’s house in Connecticut. And two days later I was hugging him and saying goodbye. It was incredibly hard and I can easily say it was a “really bad day.”
Over the next few months I was kinda/sorta dating someone yet the relationship was going nowhere and I quickly found out that this person had a lot more baggage than I first thought. When I started being talked down to and yelled at for (wait for it) “wanting to spend time with him” I finally had enough and ended the friendship/relationship… whatever bullshit it actually was. But you have to remember, my best friend was gone so I had been spending a lot of time with this new guy and his friend. And suddenly, it was gone. I mean, “good riddance” is certainly apropos here, but it was a loss and yet another “really bad day.”
But it was the death of my sister – an event that surprised us all – that truly gave me the worst day of the year and probably the worst day since my father passed away eight years ago. Losing a sibling is a devastating experience and something that is hard to deal with even now.
When my sister was put into hospice care, my days were filled with a number of very bad days. And when she finally passed, I was relieved she was out of pain, but overcome by the loss of one of my best friends. Siblings are a strange thing. You can go from hating them as kids, to loving and needing them as adults. My sister got me through some very rough patches throughout my life and was a staunch supporter of my being an openly gay man. I could talk easily about things with her and as we got older we got closer.
But illness and a rough home life caused a fissure that made that closeness go away. As her illness increased and her mental faculties faded, I realized early on I was losing the sister I had known my whole life. She was still there, for sure, but not the same person. And that loss was hard. But within the changes there were glimpses into the woman she used to be. The person I laughed with and shared secrets with. Who I cried to when I was upset, and who became my buddy after all that teenage angst had passed.
So like the Magraths, I understand the connection siblings have. I’ve started to develop that bond with my brother, someone who has the strong character and a good sense of family and responsibility. While my sister and I related on more of an emotional level, my brother and I relate in a different way. Something that is a bit more restrained but I think there is a quiet understanding there as well. We get each other without having to talk endlessly about it. And I think with the passing of our sister, that will only grow stronger and morph into something more overt. And I appreciate that. I liked having different relationships with each of my siblings. They each brought something different to my life. And even though sometimes we might drive each other crazy… we might dislike each other at times… they are our blood… and they will be the ones who will get us through.
As a result of this year’s bad days, I became more independent when my best friend moved away. (He’s back, btw.) I understood what I would, and would not, put up with regarding the people I date. And although the loss of my sister still affects me every day, I use the strength she had in fighting her diseases to forge through the absolutely surmountable problems I face. I know that in the loss of her life, I intend on living mine to the fullest. And even though she’s not on this physical Earth anymore, she’s with me in a different way… watching over me and making sure my “really bad days” are not so bad anymore.