Company of Fools is launching its 24th annual theatrical season this month, beginning with Beth Henley’s award-winning comic drama “Crimes of the Heart.”
In the play, the three Magrath sisters—Babe (Aly Wepplo), Lenny (Audra Honaker) and Meg (Sharon Barto) reunite in their clan’s Mississippi home after Babe shoots her abusive husband.
Looking down the barrel at attempted manslaughter charges, Babe struggles to navigate through her issues while her sisters wrestle with their own personal tragedies and travesties.
In the course of the play, old tensions simmer to a boil, characters struggle with personal and interpersonal turmoil and the family members attempt to find some form of reconciliation, or at least acceptance.
Tess Makena, Tim Gouran and David Janeski round out the cast, drilling their own considerable potholes to this comedy’s already bumpy narrative road.
The original 1981 Broadway production of “Crimes of the Heart” garnered three Tony award nominations and Henley’s script won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
For Company of Fools, “Crimes of the Heart” seemed the ideal kickoff to the 24th theatrical season, which focuses on the theme of “family.”
“When you start a theater season with the theme of family, you don’t have any trouble finding scripts,” said Company of Fools’ new artistic director, Scott Palmer, who is also directing this play. “Great drama in families is usually fodder for great drama on stage.”
Indeed, Henley’s play offers both great drama and great comedy, balancing the uproarious laughs with genuinely emotional moments, without ever succumbing to the ever-threatening pitfalls of tonal whiplash.
Between descriptions of the characters as “beautifully broken” by Barto and “wonderful, horrible” by Makena, this production hopes to bridge gaps between emotional dichotomies.
As Palmer put it, the Company of Fools version is not simply a rehashing of the “cute little comedy” with Sissy Spaceck, referring to the Oscar-nominated 1986 film adaptation.
“We’re digging deeper into the heart of the play,” he said.
“You can always count on a Company of Fools play to make you think and to be a good time, and this play is the best example of that there could be,” said Wepplo.
For five of the six cast members, the family reunion represented onstage somewhat mirrors reality. Only Tim Gouran will make his Company of Fools debut with “Crimes of the Heart.” The others are veterans.
“These women are coming together for a reunion—over some manslaughter,” Wepplo joked, “and we’re coming here for a reunion to do the play.”
Speaking of her return to Company of Fools, Tess Makena said, “It’s home. This is my third time being here and I have felt like I am myself and at peace here more than anywhere else I’ve acted,” a sentiment echoed by co-star Honaker, who said, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at peace in my life than when I’m here.”
This sense of home perhaps rings truest for Barto. “Personally, for me, it’s really exciting because I grew up in this town. [My character] Meg comes home and so do I.”
For Gouran and Palmer, however, the experience does not differ wildly from that of the familiar veterans.
“It’s funny,” Gouran said. “I honestly don’t feel like this is my first show here. It’s been all encompassing in its kindness and availability.”
It was this instantaneous sense of welcoming that inspired Palmer to select “family” as the unifying theme of his inaugural season with the company.
“I felt, as soon as I got here, that I had been invited into a family,” he said. “The Fools and The Center have this incredible connection to the community and the artists. It felt like I had been invited in and I wanted to welcome others in as well.”
Though immediately welcomed into the fold, Palmer could not just relax and settle in, being extremely cognizant of his considerable responsibilities as artistic director of this particular theater company.
Speaking on Tuesday, June 4, he said, “I’ve been here three months, but last night was my first rehearsal at this theater. It’s daunting. This company has—quite rightly—a remarkable reputation for excellence and a remarkable connection to the community. I’m just the new guy.”
As he settles into his new position and prepares to lead the company into the future, Palmer remains dually committed to honoring the company’s roots and to fostering artistic progress.
His first show as director premieres Wednesday, June 26, and continues every Wednesday through Saturday until July 13, except the week of Independence Day, when a Tuesday performance compensates for the holiday on Thursday. All performances commence at 7:30 p.m. at the Liberty Theatre, 110 N. Main St. in Hailey.
Visit sunvalleycenter.org/companyoffools for details and ticket purchases.