Posted Online: Feb. 06, 2013, 2:51 pm

Women shine in dark New Ground comedy

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By Jonathan Turner,

New Ground Theatre's production of 'Crimes of the Heart' features Tracy Pelzer- Timm, left, Jenny Winn and Kylie Jansen.

Three well-known local actresses who have made their glorious mark on the musical stage confidently take on the purely dramatic in New Ground Theatre's strong production of the dark family comedy,"Crimes of the Heart."

Jenny Winn, Tracy Pelzer-Timm and Jen Sondgeroth have all dazzled audiences in many area musicals, and here prove they don't need a melody to tell a memorable, deeply affecting story.

Though thePulitzer-winning play by Beth Henley that debuted in December 1980 is billed as a comedy, a haunting current of tragedy courses through this Mississippi tale of three Magrath sisters -- Lenny (Ms. Winn), Meg (Ms. Pelzer-Timm) and Babe (Kylie Jansen). Ms. Sondgeroth has the lightest and the flightiest of the roles -- as Chick, she's their know-it-all, nosy and melodramatic cousin, neighbor to Lenny, and looks down on what she calls a "trashy" trio.

As with most siblings, there's a lot of tension and drama to spread around, and the talented leads make the most of the soap-opera-ish plot. Ms. Winn impresses as the most honestly emotional of the group -- finding reservoirs of bitter regret and envy to bathe in, as Lenny marks her 30th birthday alone, caring for their hospitalized grandfather, jealous of what her younger sisters have.

The three are reunited -- Meg returns from Hollywood after failing to make it as a singer -- after Babe has shother bigwig politico husband, because she apparently said: "I just didn't like his stinking looks." Later, we learn of her real, more troubling motives that reveal shocking marital (and extramarital) secrets.

Not only have the sisters forgotten Lenny's birthday, but Ms. Winn reflects the pain of being the oldest, unable to have children, unsuccessful at finding love, grieving her recently dead horse, and envious of Babe's youthful beauty and Meg's history of getting nearly everything she's ever wanted. Lenny is also pissed at the little and big -- Meg nibbling every piece of candy in the birthday box Chick gave her, and Meg's complex relationship with the married Doc Porter (Dana Moss-Peterson).

Ms. Pelzer-Timm is a natural as the rebellious, loud and dramatic Meg. She tries to hide the fact she works for a dog-food company from her granddad, lying to him with "good news," which upsets Lenny even more. Lenny also deals with the fact Babe seems much closer to Meg. A couple priceless moments are when Ms. Pelzer-Timm and Ms. Sondgeroth exchange dagger looks, and Ms. Winn explodes in anger at Ms. Sondgeroth, chasing her out of the kitchen set with a broom.

Tragedy hounds the Magrath women since their mother had hung herself after their father abandoned them. Babe seems most tormented by that fact. She finds a budding relationship with Barnette, a young lawyer who represents her and has a personal vendetta against Zachary, her unseen husband.

Ms. Jansen reveals a bubbly excitement in much of her part, and the shining eyes of a lovestruck teenager in a scene with Alec Peterson as Barnette.

The sisters bond by looking through family photos, and share memories. Babe says a lot about the story when she comments: "Life sure can be miserable." As we all know, misery loves company, and hard times are much easier to bear with the support of loved ones, and that's no exception here.

AfterMeg spends the night with Doc, Ms. Pelzer-Timm shows sheer exhilaration and happiness, and tells Lenny to call an old boyfriend, and Ms. Winn unfurls her megawatt smile later on when she finds the courage to make a long-awaited connection. She's thrilled and we share that joy.

New Ground artistic director Chris Jansen displays a sure hand directing this solid cast. The two men are fine in their relatively undistinguished parts, though Mr. Peterson reveals a vengeful fire in his character. This is the sisters' story, and it sings with the expressive, longing force of opera.

If you go

-- What: "Crimes of the Heart."
-- When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.
-- Where: Village Theatre, 2113 E. 11th St., Village of East Davenport.
-- Tickets: $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors (55 and older). (563) 326-7529,