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Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011

Characters Drive Milwaukee Chamber's 'Crimes of the Heart'

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Beth Henley's dramatic comedy Crimes of the Heart is a touching, character-driven look at small-town life in America. Director Mary MacDonald Kerr admirably handles the delicately written work in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's season-opening production.

The central plot concerns three grown sisters, played here by Laura Frye, Laura Gray and Georgina McKee. The piece calls for a deft, balanced ensemble, and the cast delivers.

Laura Frye makes a standout debut for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre as the youngest sister, Babe. Babe has just shot her husband, a very influential lawyer, in the stomach. But she's flippant about the situation, even if it means life imprisonment. The portrayal has to balance vulnerability with inner strength. It's not an easy task, but Frye does an excellent job of rendering this tricky role.

A young, inexperienced lawyer (played by Neil Haven) picks up Babe's case. The unlikely chemistry between lawyer and client feels very real. Frye and Haven are a great deal of fun. In a sign of their rare chemistry, they manage to make a connection between their characters even when they're not onstage together.

Laura Gray is also impressive, giving a nuanced performance as the eldest sister, Lenny. Gray lends powerful inner beauty to the role of a woman struggling to live for herself, managing to find the heart of the comedy with brilliant efficiency.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's Crimes of the Heart runs through Aug. 28 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Cabot Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800.