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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.

Do yourself a huge favor this weekend and see "Crimes of the Heart" at The Empty Space.

I confess I have a certain bias because this Pulitzer Prize winner by Beth Henley is one of my favorite plays. Even so, at the opening night performance last Friday, director Bob Kempf's first-rate cast did a superb job of bringing to life Henley's well-written lines.

All the action takes place in the kitchen of a 1970s-era home in Mississippi equipped with a pink wall phone that at one point gets thrust into the fridge and a bottle opener nailed to the side of a cabinet, a handy spot for popping the cap on an ice-cold bottle of Coke.

It's a setting that allows for some very funny stage business, such as a scene where the usually controlled Lenny (Amy Hall) literally sweeps her bossy cousin Chick (Jennifer Maddern) out the back door. I won't describe the details of the scene but I can tell you that the audience roared with laughter when it reached its climax.

Humor is the play's strong point, not an easy thing to carry out when the story concerns three sisters, ages 24, 27 and 30, who are dealing with a good deal of pathos.

What you have is attempted murder on the part of Babe (Ellie Sivesind), who is charming and thoroughly believable as the seemingly innocent youngest sister; the dubious claims of instant Hollywood stardom on the part of Meg (Cody Ganger); and Lenny's repressed anger at knowing she wasn't her dead mother's favorite child.

For the most part, the play zips along at a breathless pace. It's over in a little under two hours but seemed a much shorter time for me.

The only place it slows down involves Doc (Brian Sivesind) and Meg, who become a bit maudlin as they sit at the kitchen table getting drunk on bourbon as they recall what led to their breakup, somehow connected with an incident in Biloxi five years before, during Hurricane Camille.

Frankly, it was never clear to me what caused the split but maybe that was intentional on the part of the playwright or maybe that's the way Kempf, the director, wanted it to be played.

Henley's genius is in the way she allows these various issues to evolve. The playwright presents them superficially at first. For example, when Babe is asked why she shot her husband, she responds, "I just didn't like his looks."

Yet before the end of the first act, Barnett Lloyd, Babe's eager, fresh-faced lawyer (well-portrayed by Matthew Borton), turns up with evidence proving her illicit relationship with a 15-year-old boy.

One constant is the see-saw love-hate relationships the three sisters have with one another that are as comical as they are emotional. And perfectly understandable to anyone who has a sister -- or, for that matter, a brother.

There are a number of fascinating scenes where all three are simultaenously shouting, stomping their feet and waving their hands. Then in an instant, they joyously throw their arms around each other or are overcome with uncontrollable laughter.

The odd part is that it all makes sense in the end.