ALAMEDA -- Meet the disaster-prone Magrath sisters in the Altarena's production of "Crimes of the Heart." Opening Friday, the tragic comedy follows the trio as they reunite at their grandfather's Mississippi home.

In keeping with their dysfunctional family history, one of the sisters has recently shot her abusive husband. While this is the latest incident to disrupt the women's chaotic lives, they each have committed their own "crimes of the heart," which during the course of the play bubble to the surface.

Suffering its own troubles, Henley's play almost never saw the light of day. Rejected by several regional theatres in 1978, the show languished on a shelf until a friend, without Henley's knowledge, entered it into the Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. The play was named a co-winner and subsequently performed at the company's annual festival. Various regional theatres selected the show for their 1979-80 seasons. In 1981, it opened on Broadway, where it ran for 535 performances and, in the same year, it won the Pulitzer Prize. Not bad for a show that was almost never produced.

"This was one of the plays I was forced to read in college, but I actually enjoyed it," said director Angelo Benedetto.


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An Alameda native, Benedetto was the scenic designer and assistant director for the Altarena's thoughtful production of "Spring Awakening" last season.

"One of the things that really got to me was how the sisters relate to each other. With all the crazy stuff going on in their lives, there is, of course, tension but also so much affection and humor. It's very intimate and very real," Benedetto explained.

The cast features Christina Stoffan, Ally Reardon, Sam Vegas, Laura Domingo, Chloe Condon, and Michael Scott Wells.

"I was very fortunate to be able to cast the right people at the perfect age for the characters," Benedetto said. "If you don't have powerful women and men in the show, you shouldn't even attempt it."

While Benedetto has kept pretty much to Henley's script, he did make the time more current.

"Henley set the show in 1984, but the time period isn't really important to the action so I moved it forward a bit, adding more contemporary music and making one of the sisters a compulsive hoarder, a term that didn't exist in 1984," Benedetto said.

FYI
"Crimes of the Heart" runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 13. There is one Thursday performance on June 13 at 8 p.m. The company will offer half of the proceeds from ticket sales to Alameda's Midway Shelter for the May 19 performance. The shelter provides shelter, food and supportive services to homeless women and children. For tickets to the show, call 510-523-1553 or go online to www.altarena.org.