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Photo by Michelle Guerrero

The Magrath sisters — from left, Meg (Cody Ganger), Babe (Ellie Sivesind) and Lenny (Amy Hall) — from "Crimes of the Heart," which opens April 12 at The Empty Space.

Adultery, suicide, attempted murder, heartbreak, sisters, birthday desserts -- all the makings of a great story. Those themes come together this weekend as The Empty Space opens its production of "Crimes of the Heart."

Director Bob Kempf describes the play as "a very funny and very touching look at three sisters who are each dealing with their own versions of heartbreak. When one of the sisters shoots her husband, the sisters have a hilarious (if uneasy) reunion."

That pistol-toting woman is Babe Magrath Botrelle, played by Ellie Sivesind. Fellow Empty Space veterans Cody Ganger and Amy Hall round out the Magrath sisters as wild child Meg and dutiful caretaker Lenny.

If the story seems familiar, you may have seen the 1986 film starring Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and Diane Keaton. But Kempf came to the production untouched by any adaptations of Beth Henley's play.

"I have never seen the film or a stage production of 'Crimes of the Heart,' so I'm coming at it without any preconceptions! I am a fan of all three of those actresses, so I'll probably watch it once we have closed."

Kempf is also a big fan of his lead actresses, who jelled in the roles, having performed together before in other Empty Space shows.

"The ladies do have an existing rapport, and it definitely grew stronger during the rehearsal process. Each one has great respect for the other, and they definitely support and rely on each other throughout the play."

The rest of the cast -- Jenny Maddern, Brian Sivesind and Matthew Borton -- proved equally delightful for Kempf to direct.

"The easiest part was rehearsing. It was a pleasure every night. We all enjoy each other's company very much and laughed a lot. I was confident in the actors' abilities, and I could just let them go in rehearsal to create!"

Having recently celebrated a decade living in Bakersfield and working with The Empty Space, Kempf said he's been pleased with how the community has continued to sustain local arts.

"I see community support of theater (and the other arts) continuing to grow. The Empty Space's attendance for the last few years has been very strong, and I believe that comes from a concerted effort to present quality productions of both new and popular plays and musicals."

'Kreative Allusions'

Also on tap this weekend is the opening reception for "Kreative Allusions," an art exhibit by John Kirkeby, who had a solo show at the gallery last year. Gallery curator Jesus Fidel describes Kirkeby's latest show of treescapes as bold and unique.

"The refreshing aspect of John's work is that he just lets go and paints away for only himself with no regard. He doesn't feel the need to complement his art with a wild story to reflect what is on his canvas."

Painting since his late 20s and now retired, Kirkeby said he likes to keep his art interesting.

"My style has evolved greatly, and continues to evolve. I do not like to do the same things over and over. I think that by changing styles and subject matter it has allowed me to grow tremendously as an artist, and keeps my work fresher."