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Crimes of the Heart

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This drama in three acts won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. Set in a small Mississippi town, the play examines the lives of three quirky sisters who have gathered back home. During the course of the week the sisters unearth grudges, criticize each other, reminisce about their family life, and attempt to understand their mother's suicide years earlier. This drama in three acts won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. Set in a small Mississippi town, the play examines the lives of three quirky sisters who have gathered back home. During the course of the week the sisters unearth grudges, criticize each other, reminisce about their family life, and attempt to understand their mother's suicide years earlier.


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This drama in three acts won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. Set in a small Mississippi town, the play examines the lives of three quirky sisters who have gathered back home. During the course of the week the sisters unearth grudges, criticize each other, reminisce about their family life, and attempt to understand their mother's suicide years earlier. This drama in three acts won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. Set in a small Mississippi town, the play examines the lives of three quirky sisters who have gathered back home. During the course of the week the sisters unearth grudges, criticize each other, reminisce about their family life, and attempt to understand their mother's suicide years earlier.

30 review for Crimes of the Heart

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    In 1980 Beth Henley won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for her Crimes of the Heart, a three act character study about three sisters in small town Mississippi. Combined with Marsha Norman's Pulitzer for 'night, mother, Henley helped to usher in a new era for southern women's play writing. A compelling play with five distinct characters, Crimes of the Heart is memorable drama. Lenora "Lenny" McGrath is thirty and unmarried and living in her grandparents' Hazelhurst, Mississippi home. Brought up by h In 1980 Beth Henley won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for her Crimes of the Heart, a three act character study about three sisters in small town Mississippi. Combined with Marsha Norman's Pulitzer for 'night, mother, Henley helped to usher in a new era for southern women's play writing. A compelling play with five distinct characters, Crimes of the Heart is memorable drama. Lenora "Lenny" McGrath is thirty and unmarried and living in her grandparents' Hazelhurst, Mississippi home. Brought up by her grandparents following her mother's suicide, as the only unmarried sister, Lenny feels that it is her duty to care for her aging grandfather. Even though she is just thirty and in the prime of her life, Lenny appears worn down by her years, acting as though she is in her fifties rather than her thirties. Caring for her grandfather as well as dealing with rumors about both her sisters in a small town where everyone knows each other's business has aged her emotionally well beyond her years. To top that off, she must constantly deal with her first cousin Chick, a busy body who enjoys putting everyone in their place. While Lenny attempts to hold the family together, middle sister Meg has returned home amid rumors about their youngest sister Babe. Both sisters have dealt with their share of issues in life, and, in their mid twenties, neither appears stable. Meg was supposed to be a star singer in Hollywood but could never handle breaking up with her boyfriend Doc, and on her return home, her life appears to be in disarray. Yet, Meg's shortcomings are nothing to Babe's. Married to Zackary Bardette, Hazelhurst's top lawyer and senator, Babe is often lonely and in need of emotional acceptance. Starting an affair with fifteen year old Willie Jim, a colored boy, eventually leads Babe to shoot her husband and the town to start talking. Ironically, it is Meg who comforts Babe in this desperate hour and leads her out of immediate legal trouble. Henley has created three strong, yet emotional unstable characters in Lenny, Meg, and Babe. Each sister has faced her share of hardships during her life, most notably the emotional baggage of their mother's suicide from which none has completely recovered twenty years later. Coping in their own way by becoming a caregiver, running away, or marrying the town bigwig, each sister deals with the loss of their parents uniquely. The entire three act play occurs in Lenny's kitchen, adding to the suspense of the moment. The room can be entered or exited from four directions, so one does not know where the action will come from next. Due to the nature of the set, Henley has written some asides and notes, but leaves the rest of off stage action for the audience to speculate about. This setting combined with the strong characters has created a strong drama, worthy of its accolades. On the heals of its Pulitzer, Crimes of the Heart was nominated for the Tony award in 1982. A poignant character piece taking place in small town Mississippi, it is a play that I will remember for a long time. Between Lenny, Meg, and Babe, the three women run the gamut of human emotions, creating a powerful drama that merited its Pulitzer. Although not at the level of some of the other Pulitzer winning plays I have read recently, Crimes of the Heart is a southern gritty play, which I highly recommend and rate 4 stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    Crimes of the Heart, the 1981 Pulitzer prize winning play from Beth Henley was also nominated for the 1982 Tony Award for a Broadway musical. A later film adaptation featured Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek. At one level this seems like a family version of Sartre’s No Exit, as each character seemed to have created her own hell that was made worse by complex interactions with the others. A better study, though, shows the strong, resilient endurance by the sisters and their ability to Crimes of the Heart, the 1981 Pulitzer prize winning play from Beth Henley was also nominated for the 1982 Tony Award for a Broadway musical. A later film adaptation featured Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek. At one level this seems like a family version of Sartre’s No Exit, as each character seemed to have created her own hell that was made worse by complex interactions with the others. A better study, though, shows the strong, resilient endurance by the sisters and their ability to come together and overcome “bad days”. Another strength of the play itself is the rich history that Henley has created through the narrow lens of the dialogue. Almost like a focused perspective, we learn about characters not in the play but whose actions and influence paint indelible marks on the McGrath sisters, especially the shadow of their mother’s suicide and the oppressive tyranny of Old Grandaddy. Set in Mississippi, this is a Southern family that is reborn from the past, struggling to find a new way. Excellent.

  3. 4 out of 5

    amy

    Loved this play. That I played Lenny in our community theatre production of the show didn't hurt my love of it. ;-) It really is a heartwarming story of three sisters each dealing with their own personal demons and issues brought on by how they were treated when they were growing up. Although it appears to be stereotypically southern in humor and behavior, there is a depth,honesty and truth that underlies the relationships portrayed in this story/play.. Loved this play. That I played Lenny in our community theatre production of the show didn't hurt my love of it. ;-) It really is a heartwarming story of three sisters each dealing with their own personal demons and issues brought on by how they were treated when they were growing up. Although it appears to be stereotypically southern in humor and behavior, there is a depth,honesty and truth that underlies the relationships portrayed in this story/play..

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I've always enjoyed this play, although it's difficult to perform with both humor and genuine emotion. Of course, we ruined it when we performed it in high school - but I still enjoyed the reading. (For the record, I played Meg.) I've always enjoyed this play, although it's difficult to perform with both humor and genuine emotion. Of course, we ruined it when we performed it in high school - but I still enjoyed the reading. (For the record, I played Meg.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Allison Berryhill

    What a great way to spend my morning! I saw a scene from this play performed recently and just had to read the play. Hilarious, heart-wrenching, and more hilarious. I'd love to see the whole play performed. What a great way to spend my morning! I saw a scene from this play performed recently and just had to read the play. Hilarious, heart-wrenching, and more hilarious. I'd love to see the whole play performed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    well that was a wild ride

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Simone

    I want to do this play. It's dark and funny and has really great / complex family dynamics. I want to do this play. It's dark and funny and has really great / complex family dynamics.

  8. 4 out of 5

    ✰ Liz ✰

    Crimes of the Heart is a truly tender read about three sisters. Meg, Babe, and Lenny are brought back together when a real life crime drama hits a little too close to home. Meg the wild child of the sisters returns home after living "the dream" in California. She fled the small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi in order to become a hit singer. The truth is she has long given up her career as a singer and has just finished an extended stay at the mental hospital. Lenny the responsible sister has been Crimes of the Heart is a truly tender read about three sisters. Meg, Babe, and Lenny are brought back together when a real life crime drama hits a little too close to home. Meg the wild child of the sisters returns home after living "the dream" in California. She fled the small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi in order to become a hit singer. The truth is she has long given up her career as a singer and has just finished an extended stay at the mental hospital. Lenny the responsible sister has been the caretaker of the family. She takes care of their grandfather and she looks after the youngest sister Babe. Lenny is turning 30 and has had one lover in her lifetime. She gave him up because she feels insecure about her inability to have children. Babe the sweet baby sister of the three has gotten herself into a bit of trouble. After marrying a wealthy lawyer and doing her best to be the perfect southern wife, she has gotten herself involved with a young African American boy. When her husband find outs, he beats the boy. Babe is so upset by her husband's actions that she shoots him. Before calling for help, she makes her self a glass of lemonade. Then she offers her shot husband a glass before she calls the ambulance. All three sisters have been branded "crazy" because of the way their mother killed herself. They have carried their pain and the ramifications of their past continue to impact their present life. Crimes of the Heart is by far one of my favorite plays. I love the journey these sisters take. They all find their way to happiness despite their pasts.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Highlyeccentric

    On the one hand: damn, this is a fantastically written play. It's what my lighting mentor J dislikes most in plays: emotion-driven plot about women. A++. It does interesting stuff with class and gender - the two men who come onsstage are not the most important men in the plot, really: the director of the GEDS production described those more important men as 'forces of nature' offstage that the female protags have to deal with. However. However. One of those 'forces of nature' is a fifteen year old On the one hand: damn, this is a fantastically written play. It's what my lighting mentor J dislikes most in plays: emotion-driven plot about women. A++. It does interesting stuff with class and gender - the two men who come onsstage are not the most important men in the plot, really: the director of the GEDS production described those more important men as 'forces of nature' offstage that the female protags have to deal with. However. However. One of those 'forces of nature' is a fifteen year old black boy having an affair with an older white woman, who gets next to no say in his fate (which is determined by a white dude), and who is treated as an adult - and a sexually exciting one - by the women who discuss him. We did this play in partnership with the US Mission and some UN gender program, and there was a special Q&A on Thursday night. Whole room full of Americans (except on stage, actually - two Aussies in a six-person cast!), and NO ONE brought this up. No one pointed out the racist elephant in the wings. Folks, its 2016 and african-american boys get shot in the street because they're deemed adult and threatening, and you don't have *any* qualms about this play doing the same thing AND ensuring he never comes on stage or speaks AND sexualising a CHILD? No one noticed the white lady protag committed STATUTORY RAPE and the boy was punished for it? Oooohkay then.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    So schticky, I love it. Characters sticking heads in ovens because of a bad day, a woman shooting her husband because she didn't like his looks, an inexperienced lawyer claiming to be qualified to take the murder case because of a personal vendetta, characters laughing uncontrollably when they hear horrible news--it's as if this whole play was devised on the spot by a group of actors, and Beth Henley just wrote it all down. LENNY. Get out of here-- CHICK. Don't you tell me to get out! What makes So schticky, I love it. Characters sticking heads in ovens because of a bad day, a woman shooting her husband because she didn't like his looks, an inexperienced lawyer claiming to be qualified to take the murder case because of a personal vendetta, characters laughing uncontrollably when they hear horrible news--it's as if this whole play was devised on the spot by a group of actors, and Beth Henley just wrote it all down. LENNY. Get out of here-- CHICK. Don't you tell me to get out! What makes you think you can order me around? Why, I've had just about my fill of you trashy Magraths and your trashy ways; hanging yourselves in cellars; carrying on with married men; shooting your own husbands!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Simona

    Three sisters, each one with inner demons from the past deals with them in their own ways. Tender, dramatic and with a little bit of a humor this #play is a good display of three strong and extremely different characters, but at the same time - very connected with the past.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Perhaps I would have liked this play a bit more if I had seen it on the stage. The craziness of these 3 sisters from Mississippi felt a little tired to me, a bit too stereotypical, while the problems they were facing were in some cases so serious that the characters' attitudes struck me as incredible - something aped from the late 19th century or from the old TV show "Designing Women" instead of from real life. Listened to this play via streaming courtesy of LATW website Perhaps I would have liked this play a bit more if I had seen it on the stage. The craziness of these 3 sisters from Mississippi felt a little tired to me, a bit too stereotypical, while the problems they were facing were in some cases so serious that the characters' attitudes struck me as incredible - something aped from the late 19th century or from the old TV show "Designing Women" instead of from real life. Listened to this play via streaming courtesy of LATW website

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Montgomery

    Since this play is set in my hometown, and the author is from my hometown, I'm probably a little biased. Loved it. Captured the South perfectly. Since this play is set in my hometown, and the author is from my hometown, I'm probably a little biased. Loved it. Captured the South perfectly.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dena

    “So, Babe shot Zackery Botrelle, the richest and most powerful man in all of Hazlehurst, slap in the gut. It’s hard to believe.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    full review: https://faintingviolet.wordpress.com/... full review: https://faintingviolet.wordpress.com/...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eric Mikols

    I liked this one. Funny and depressing, all while being wrapped in love, no matter how distorted it gets. The three sisters are great, all different and distinct with great stories. There's a lot of hurt in this play, a lot of unforgiven pain that comes out at the drop of the hat. It was fun reading this and imagining how it would play out on stage, it has great potential to be an amazing show. It's funny (I cracked up at the Pecan scene) and there's a great levity to the more depressing moments. I liked this one. Funny and depressing, all while being wrapped in love, no matter how distorted it gets. The three sisters are great, all different and distinct with great stories. There's a lot of hurt in this play, a lot of unforgiven pain that comes out at the drop of the hat. It was fun reading this and imagining how it would play out on stage, it has great potential to be an amazing show. It's funny (I cracked up at the Pecan scene) and there's a great levity to the more depressing moments. I like the uncertainty at the end, it end on a high note even though we know it shouldn't. Recommend.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rogene Carter

    The way this play managed to combine bittersweet humor and distinct Mississippi dialect was amazing. Reminds me so much of my family.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    Simmering Southern Sadness and Sisterhood

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

    CHICK Why, I've had just about my fill of you trashy Magraths and your trashy ways; hanging yourselves in cellars; carrying on with married men; shooting your own husbands! Damn man, this won the Pulitzer Prize? I guess 1981 was a pretty slow theatrical year because this play isn't it... This play checks off two of my "most hated in stories" boxes: stories that center around toxic white women, and stories that have no resolution. I do not like any of the characters in this play. I get that CHICK Why, I've had just about my fill of you trashy Magraths and your trashy ways; hanging yourselves in cellars; carrying on with married men; shooting your own husbands! Damn man, this won the Pulitzer Prize? I guess 1981 was a pretty slow theatrical year because this play isn't it... This play checks off two of my "most hated in stories" boxes: stories that center around toxic white women, and stories that have no resolution. I do not like any of the characters in this play. I get that the family is sorting through a shit ton of trauma, but I found so few redeeming qualities in any of the women that I could not get behind any of them. Like, take Babe for example. Obviously, it's awful that she was getting the pulp beaten out of her by her husband, but she also admits to have sexual relations with a fifteen year old boy. It doesn't quite cancel each other out, but I did feel a lot less kindly towards Babe after that revelation. There are moments of humor in this play, but they were usually in the form of mean-spirited quips, and so even though I snickered at them, they did nothing to make any of the characters more endearing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shane Hurst

    Though I've known about this play since it came out in the early eighties, it wasn't until I was approached to direct it that I actually read it. What a gem! Henley definitely deserves her place in the canon of Southern playwrights. The play is starting to show signs of age, but the characters are timeless and extremely compelling. The women are clearly the stars of the show, but it never feels like a "chick flick" (for lack of a better phrase). Likewise, though it's very Southern, it transcends Though I've known about this play since it came out in the early eighties, it wasn't until I was approached to direct it that I actually read it. What a gem! Henley definitely deserves her place in the canon of Southern playwrights. The play is starting to show signs of age, but the characters are timeless and extremely compelling. The women are clearly the stars of the show, but it never feels like a "chick flick" (for lack of a better phrase). Likewise, though it's very Southern, it transcends its setting with just the right mix of quirky humor and a keen insight into family drama.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Whittemore

    It is difficult, very, for me to look past the sexual relationship of a 24 year old with a 15 year old. But OTHER THAN THAT this is a nice snap shot of characters I like who represent different types of women, which is just so nice to see. And I'm kinda with all of them, understanding why they would do the things they do. OTHER THAN THAT. I don't see why he couldn't have been 20. I guess I don't grasp what that added to the story or the character. Like, that just makes her a shit person and her It is difficult, very, for me to look past the sexual relationship of a 24 year old with a 15 year old. But OTHER THAN THAT this is a nice snap shot of characters I like who represent different types of women, which is just so nice to see. And I'm kinda with all of them, understanding why they would do the things they do. OTHER THAN THAT. I don't see why he couldn't have been 20. I guess I don't grasp what that added to the story or the character. Like, that just makes her a shit person and her sister a shit person for supporting her. Just saying.

  22. 5 out of 5

    John Amory

    How the actual hell did this win a Pulitzer? This is honestly some of the laziest dialogue I've ever read. MEG: Are you really thirty? Then I must be twenty-seven and Babe is twenty-four. MEG: So Babe shot Zackery Botrelle, the richest and most powerful man in all of Hazlehurst, slap in the gut. It's absurd. Who talks in exposition like this? And the entire play is this same type of thing: a bunch of people sitting around talking about stuff that happened without anything actually happening. How the actual hell did this win a Pulitzer? This is honestly some of the laziest dialogue I've ever read. MEG: Are you really thirty? Then I must be twenty-seven and Babe is twenty-four. MEG: So Babe shot Zackery Botrelle, the richest and most powerful man in all of Hazlehurst, slap in the gut. It's absurd. Who talks in exposition like this? And the entire play is this same type of thing: a bunch of people sitting around talking about stuff that happened without anything actually happening.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shecharchoret

    The play is about the reunition of three sisters(Babe, Meg, Lenny) when Babe attempts to murder her husband and I really liked the play since this is a play about the bonding of three sisters and their rebirth in solidarity and in laughter together. The other thing that I like is that the focus is not the murder attempt as the reader expects in the beginning but it is on the woman’s rebirth through female solidarity.

  24. 4 out of 5

    DavidJsays

    This play is a season staple, performed again and again across America. After reading it, I can't help but think it is incomplete. There is no resolution provided for the meat of the conflict. All of the women's lives seem dependent upon the men they orbit around. There are two characters who don't forward the plot. And apparently birthday cake is a remedy for all ills. I am still skeptical about this play. This play is a season staple, performed again and again across America. After reading it, I can't help but think it is incomplete. There is no resolution provided for the meat of the conflict. All of the women's lives seem dependent upon the men they orbit around. There are two characters who don't forward the plot. And apparently birthday cake is a remedy for all ills. I am still skeptical about this play.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Rice

    The play follow three sisters who are from Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Who come together after years apart. Each one of them struggling with their own issues brought on from their childhood. The sisters have to face a big problem that includes them all. They find away to overcome their problems together and learn that family love can overcome anything. We did this play at my high school and is a very moving piece of everyone involved.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Juan Camilo

    I'd love to see an updated version of this play. The text feels old nowadays, but still powerful and reflects the ups and downs of a Mississippi family like any other family, in the States of anywhere in the world. We do crazy things and families are there to support each other, like these three crazy and adorable Magrath sisters do. The movie adaptation is great, and reading the play is a whole different story. I'd love to see an updated version of this play. The text feels old nowadays, but still powerful and reflects the ups and downs of a Mississippi family like any other family, in the States of anywhere in the world. We do crazy things and families are there to support each other, like these three crazy and adorable Magrath sisters do. The movie adaptation is great, and reading the play is a whole different story.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alessandra Santamaria

    my issue with this story (that apparently freaking won a Pulitzer) as that it seems to me that so many novels written in the 20th century by american female writters have such a similar style to them. The writting, the characters, the character development, the plots, the "vibe" in general, its all some what like valley of the dolls. Not too much diversity or orginality I think my issue with this story (that apparently freaking won a Pulitzer) as that it seems to me that so many novels written in the 20th century by american female writters have such a similar style to them. The writting, the characters, the character development, the plots, the "vibe" in general, its all some what like valley of the dolls. Not too much diversity or orginality I think

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emmanuel

    While I did really enjoy the sibling dynamics between the three sisters, the end felt somewhat lacklustre personally; the developments driving the narrative were never actually resolved or expanded upon, and the play instead opted for a more bitter-turned-sweet wholesome family reunion, which is like, fine, but it still left me feeling as if the arc of the narrative was incomplete.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sieara DeLone

    A beautiful story of complicated people. I think it does a great job at helping us understand the simple humanity behind suicidal individuals and thoughts. It is an interesting perspective on pathological issues and how they must be addressed. A very cool story.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Amberley

    I also had to read this for a class project, it was over a year ago and I honestly don’t remember much of it. We did spend most of the semester reading it and by the end I never wanted to read it again

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