The Magrath Sisters from Hazelhurst, MS

By on 30 September, 2014 in Fun, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“Some really good things kind of swing both ways and I like to see people that can swing really, really, really sad and horrible and terrible and really, really, really beautiful and funny.”  -Beth Henley

Photo: Crimes of the Heart in rehearsal: L to R Deborah Robertson, Sarah Adkins, and Jaymee Vowell.

Photo: Crimes of the Heart in rehearsal: L to R Deborah Robertson, Sarah Adkins, and Jaymee Vowell.

We have just begun rehearsals this week for Beth Henley’s wonderful Crimes of the Heart, directed by Maureen Costello. I asked the three terrific actresses playing the Magrath sisters if they would take a break from their time around the “table” and chat a bit about the play, their characters, and how they are approaching the work. I extend my great thanks, as always, to the talented artists who give of their time and have become such an integral part of the Playhouse family. Crimes of the Heart opens Thursday October 23 and runs through Sunday, November 2. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2:00 PM. For tickets call 334.262.1530 or order online at

 Greg Thornton: This play has had a long and sustained love affair with theaters all over the world. Why do think it has such an enduring effect?

Sarah Adkins: I think this play has had such an enduring love affair with audiences. Because there is so much raw humanity and raucous humor, it is hard NOT to love this play. We are all constantly dancing around despair, clinging to whatever hope we can find in order not to get stuck in a lock-step with our sadness. If we can’t laugh at all the terrible things that happen to us, our spirits slowly fade. But the Magrath sisters have such bright shining spirits! They survive things that could easily destroy a person. They never lose hope and they never stop laughing. That is what I find so magical about Ms. Henley’s play. That and the fact that it is just freaking hysterical.

Deborah Robertson: I think it has, and will continue to affect audiences around the world, because its theme is timeless. How does one recover from the crimes committed to their heart, especially when some of the wounds are self-inflicted? The characters are so richly written that we can see ourselves, and those we know and love, in each one. And of course, it’s fabulously funny, and isn’t laughter the best medicine for a broken heart?

Jaymee Vowell: I think it has such an enduring effect because people all over the world can relate to life being imperfect. Most people have some sort of skeletons in their closet like the Magrath sisters. For most people life certainly is not perfect – it’s messy. This play is full of imperfect characters dealing with “messy” situations. People can relate to this emotionally. In life most situations are not totally resolved,you just have to make the best of them… and wait and see what happens …and hope. We don’t know exactly what is going to happen to Babe. Is she going to jail? Will Barnette get the girl of his dreams? Will things work out with Lenny & Charlie? Will Meg go back to Hollywood, sing, & fall in love? etc We will just have to wait & see what happens with these messy situations … and hope. People can also relate to the fact that sometimes the best way to handle a bad or unpleasant situation is to laugh through your tears. The love these sisters have for each other is enduring in itself and gives the audience the hope that as long as there is love, everything will be ok. There is a quote from The New York Times that I think sums it up beautifully: “such is Miss Henley’s prodigious talent that she can serve us pain as though it were a piece of cake.”

Greg Thornton: Let’s talk about the family and what goes on in that house. The mother, where is the father, what’s with “Grandaddy?” The group is more than a little dysfunctional? Wouldn’t you say?

Sarah Adkins: This family is definitely dysfunctional, but what family isn’t if you get really honest? I have my own ideas about why “daddy” left and why the mother just could not get over it, but I don’t want to color any audience member’s individual experience of the play with my own particular shades of scandal. For whatever reason, the father abandoned his wife and three little girls, leaving them at the mercy of the grandparents for support. That is a devastating blow for a family. And the hits just keep on coming. Momma, unable to cope with her current reality, decides to take her own life in a fashion the entire nation finds newsworthy, leaving the grandparents with yet an even greater burden to bear. Not only are “grandaddy and old grandmamma” coping with the loss of their own daughter, but they are also forced into the responsibility of raising three traumatized little girls. I am sure grandaddy overcompensated in trying to make the sisters happy and trying to shelter them from any further pain or disappointment, but he unknowingly increased their discomfort and disconnection from the real world. We all act out in our own ways, and we never know how we might be damaging ourselves or those around us. And each individual member of the family has a different perspective on the family dynamic that no one sees. We all love our families, but sometimes the best we can do is survive them.

Deborah Robertson: Oh yes! By the time we meet this family, events of their own making and those beyond their control have whipped them up into a clinical case of co-dependency. They are like a delicious dysfunctional sundae…heavy on the nuts!

 Jaymee Vowell: It is dysfunctional but they “manage.” It’s what southern families do in the face of hardship – they “manage” – whether someone hangs herself & the family cat or shoots their husband – they manage.

I like to imagine that Daddy was a handsome charming man with a million dollar smile. Maybe he left his wife and three young daughters for greener pastures because Mama was mentally ill and he couldn’t take it anymore. Perhaps he left in the middle of the night and young Meg caught him slipping out. He smiled at her in the dark and all she could see were his beautiful white teeth. He promised her that he would come back. He never did. His breaking that promise hurt Meg so much that she never allowed herself to feel anything for anyone, especially men, because she didn’t want to get hurt again.

Greg Thornton: Each sister is unique. Is there a particular aspect of each that appeals to you as Babe, Lenny and Meg?

Sarah Adkins: I can see a little bit of myself in all three sisters. The three of them have very different means of escape, but they are all running from reality. They hide out. They keep secrets. They put on a show. I feel a connection to them all, but in playing Babe, I find her childlike fantasy world quite delightful. In a way, Babe is a child. I don’t think she matured emotionally much past the age of fifteen. But the tricky thing about playing Babe is that she turns on a dime; shifting from absolute despair to utter excitement in a matter of seconds. In a way, she is the manifestation of Beth Henley’s lovely quote. She swings between “really, really, really sad and horrible and terrible and really, really, really beautiful and funny.” Babe is like a cradle, and I just want to rock right along beside her.

Deborah Robertson: While the idea of filling Lenny’s shoes in real life does not appeal to me, playing her on stage is a hoot! She is such an awkward mess of repressed emotions, bitter resentments, and poor self-confidence, yet, she is the glue holding the family together! However, when it comes down to brass tacks, she truly loves her sisters and would do anything for them, and that is something to be admired.

Jaymee Vowell: Meg’s story just touches my heart. She is a character full of so many extremes – so much sadness & bravado. I am very fortunate to be able to go on this tumultuous emotional journey as Meg. I think Meg tried to run away from her feelings and her life in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, where she had to endure so much tragedy.She wanted something more glamorous for herself … minus the pain.What she discovered is: you can’t outrun pain – it chases you down & pounces on you – even if you run all the way to Hollywood.

Greg Thornton: This is a distinctly American piece, distinctly Southern, I’d say and yet, the sisters, the three of them, follow that great work of the theater by Chekov, Three Sisters. What strikes you, as you work on it, in terms of its humanity and what it says about women in particular?

Sarah Adkins: I don’t think the women in these play are pillars of feminist strength or virtue, but I do think these stories highlight the struggles of everyday women as they fight to keep their heads above water in a male-dominated world designed to keep them under. Women can easily be imprisoned by the patriarchal design of society with very little hope of escape. The women in these plays are looking for a way out, whether it be by getting on a train to Moscow, or going off to Hollywood to become a big star, or shooting their husbands, or hanging themselves. And often times they think a man can save them. But as women, we have to save ourselves, and we have to lift one another up in the process instead of dragging each other down. We can’t blossom into the full grown human beings we are meant to be unless we nurture one another. I think this play is about sisterhood and the need for growth outside the walls society hides us behind, especially as women here in the south. This play is about survival.

Deborah Robertson: While it is most definitely a Southern play, and that adds to its irresistible charm, the love-hate relationship between sisters transcends place and time. As women, we are such complex creatures; constantly balancing ourselves between strength and vulnerability, kindness and cruelty, bravery and self-doubt. The relationship we share with our sisters serves to bring out both the best and worst in ourselves. While this can be infuriating at times, there is a precious comfort that comes from the fact that your sister knows you’re not perfect, but she loves you all the same.

Jaymee Vowell: I think it speaks to me about the amazing strength and perseverance of these three women. These sisters endure a great deal starting from the desertion of their father and the sensational suicide of their mother. Babe stands up to her abuser. Lenny decides to take charge of her life and be something more than Granddaddy’s nursemaid by reaching out to Charlie. Meg learns that she doesn’t have to pretend not to have feelings in order to be strong. It is also evident that the enduring love that the three sisters have for each other is important. They help each other through the obstacles in life – even if it’s just by being there & laughing through the tears. At one point Meg says to Babe : “But Babe, you’ve just got to talk to someone all about this. You just do – because it’s a human need – to talk about our lives – an important human need.”

Greg Thornton: I love the roller coaster of emotions in this play. Beth’s quote at the beginning of this interview speaks to that. That must be a terrific challenge for the actor, wouldn’t you say?

Sarah Adkins: Yes, it is absolutely a great challenge for an actor. I talked a bit about this in a response to an earlier question. I think Babe (as well as the other sisters) strongly resemble Ms. Henley’s quote. Babe’s emotions turn on a dime and often to great extremes. This is not an easy feat to accomplish night after night, but once you get going, the script just kind of shoots you out of a cannon, and boy what a ride! I am having a blast.

Deborah Robertson: Certainly, but it is a welcomed challenge. Beth Henley has crafted such beautiful and insightful work of art in Crimes of the Heart and it is truly an honor to be able to step into the McGrath kitchen, into that world, and speak her words.

Jaymee Vowell: Yes, but it’s roles like these that I, as an actor, live for! What is more exciting and fun than a roller coaster? The awfulness of the situation contrasts so sharply to the hilarity of the interactions of the characters that it certainly keeps you on your toes as a performer. It also seems to me that as Southerners we are used to extreme swings of emotions and the beautiful right along beside the ugly. There is a saying, “Here in the South, we don’t hide crazy. We parade it on the front porch and give it a cocktail.”

Greg Thornton: The Playhouse is so lucky to have you doing this play. Can you talk a little about your background and what drew you to the Playhouse. Also, will you all please come back?

Sarah Adkins: I have known I wanted to be an actor since the eighth grade. I am from Montgomery. I graduated from BTW Magnet High School with an emphasis in theater studies and went on to attend The Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Right after graduation in 2001, I packed all of my belongings into the back of a yellow Penske truck and headed to Hollywood to chase the dream. I ended up moving back to Montgomery in 2007. There was a great void in my life at that time, because Montgomery had no home for community theater. When I heard about The Cloverdale Playhouse opening, I was beyond ecstatic. I went to the open auditions before the first season was announced, and I have been in three shows here so far. That void in my life has been filled, and I am beyond grateful. The Playhouse really is my church, and you won’t be getting rid of me any time soon.

Deborah Robertson: First, I must admit I am a Yankee, born and raised on Long Island, NY. Professionally, my degrees are in education, but I was drawn to the stage throughout high school and college. Over the last decade I have primarily played the leading role of “mother of 4 – domestic military housewife extraordinaire,” however, in recent years, to regain my sanity, I have returned to acting. We are currently stationed at Maxwell, and upon arriving in Montgomery at the end of July, I did some research into the live theater being offered in the city. When I saw the auditions for Crimes of the Heart, I just could not resist – it is such an amazing script! Since being cast, the family at Cloverdale Playhouse has welcomed me so warmly, I would consider it a privilege to be a part of your future productions.

 Jaymee Vowell: This play holds such a special place in my heart. I grew up in Mississippi, myself – one of three sisters, not far from Hazelhurst Mississippi, where Crimes of the Heart is set. It was the very first play I performed in, as an adult. I actually fell in love – with theater – as a result of playing Babe in a community theater production near Jackson Mississippi. Now I am experiencing the undeniable pleasure of playing Meg in this heart-rending but delightful story. I actually feel like I know each and every character in this play. Although they may seem a bit eccentric to some, the characters seem perfectly “normal” to me as a small town Mississippi girl. Over the years I have performed at various theaters in the South, most recently at The Wetumpka Depot. I also had the pleasure of being part of the first season at The Playhouse with The Boys Next Door. I am thrilled to be on stage again at The Playhouse. It is such a unique and welcoming group of extremely talented folks. I am very fortunate to “keep company” with them.


  • Crimes of the Heart, October 23-November 2, 2014
  • Auditions for It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play, directed by Greg Thornton, Sunday & Monday, October 26 & 27, 6-10 p.m. Look for details at
  • Joe Thomas Jr. 3rd Tuesday Guitar Pull October 28, 7PM *Date Change*
  • 2015 Season Announcement Thursday, November 6
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