A Lesson from Aloes
Deep Dish Theater Company
Through Nov. 10

It’s important to recall that apartheid was widely condemned around the worldbut still very much in placeas Athol Fugard wrote this remembrance of the bad old days in 1980. Set in 1963, Aloes is certainly no warm bath of nostalgia. It depicts, with commendable sensitivity, the high human price of activism and its aftermath in one family and among a group of friends, after a political crackdownand an anonymous informantlands one of them in jail and sends a goon squad out, late one night, to read and confiscate the private journals of another’s wife.

Under Joan Darling’s measured direction, Piet (Tony Lea) seems a nearly weightless, eviscerated man, but one who hasn’t entirely abandoned the ideals that once drove him. Newcomer Kerry Shear’s Gladys is wounded, fragile and furious at the violation that has endangered her mental health. Returning to the regional stage, Dante Walker is mesmerizing as Steve, an activist just released from prison and about to go with his family into voluntary exile.

In commenting upon the equally metaphorical aloe plants that Piet collects, Gladys sharply asks, “Is that the price of survival in this country? Thorns and bitterness?” Fugard’s answer includes long taproots, thick skinand the patience to see things through.

Crimes of the Heart
Playmakers Rep
Through Nov. 11

Has Beth Henley’s dark, Southern comedy, which came to prominence during the Carter administration, aged as poorly as it seems in this Playmakers production? Possibly so. We now note the incredibleand painfully obviousconvenience of Babe’s lawyer being a sworn political enemy to her husband, a first-rate legal mind (in Hazelhurst, Miss., of all places) and more than mildly in love with her (from afar) in the same scene. One-stop plotting, so to speak.

The objection of her sister, Meg (Janie Brookshire), upon learning her former beau has married a Yankee, has a different, hollower ring now than it did 30 years ago. And though busybody relatives are still with us, of course, if they seemed as irrelevant as this Chick (Annie Meisels), their presence likely wouldn’t be tolerated as long as hers is.

But the occasional shrillness of the Magrath sisters’ unlikely reunion doesn’t fully convey the dysfunctional realities that split this family in the first place. Southern literary characters must have a past; unfortunately, the one that Babe, Meg and Lenny (Regan Thompson) share in this production still seems hypothetical.