Read Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley Online


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....

Title : Crimes of the Heart
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780822202509
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 106 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Crimes of the Heart Reviews

  • Brina
    2019-04-07 01:15

    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.

  • Lyn
    2019-04-18 07:25

    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.

  • Daniel
    2019-04-09 06:22

    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!

  • amy
    2019-03-31 08:08

    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..

  • Allison Berryhill
    2019-04-19 07:20

    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.

  • Jessica
    2019-04-02 08:26

    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.)

  • Elizabeth
    2019-04-02 02:01

    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.

  • Eric Mikols
    2019-04-07 05:26

    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.

  • Steven
    2019-04-02 07:18

    Simmering Southern Sadness and Sisterhood

  • Shane Hurst
    2019-04-14 08:24

    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.

  • Alessandra Santamaria
    2019-04-02 08:21

    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

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-30 02:24

    This was a quick read of an entertaining play.

  • Louise Tripp
    2019-04-02 05:15

    I enjoyed the dialect and the banter in this play, and who says all plays need a clear resolution? Apparently, there is a film version that I now might have to see.

  • Mandee
    2019-04-08 07:14

    I read this for my Theatre class. I believe the theme of Crimes of the Heart is how families interact with each other and that no matter how irritating your family may be, they are still your family. With the central idea being family, Henley’s play looks into the relationships between the sisters by comparing and contrasting their lives. Today’s culture still views family life as an important role in society. This is especially true when you live in a small town and everyone knows everything about you and your family.I believe that the genre would be a tragicomedy. This is because while the play brings up tragic events (the suicide of the sister’s mother, the relationship issues of two of the sisters, the beating of a boy, and the murder of Babe’s husband), the mood of the play is lightened with the love, caring and understanding of the sisters and their antics. I really enjoyed the sister’s characters. Meg McGrath is the wild sister, she as fled the small town in order to be a singer in California. She gives up her relationship with Doc Porter but seems able to rekindle her romance with him in Act II when her and Doc decide to “take a ride. .and look out at the moon” (Act II, pg.51). Lenny McGrath is the responsible sister and she takes care of their grandfather and looks after Babe. The play is set around her 30th birthday. She is very protective of her family and puts Chick in his place in Act III, when she beats Chick with a broom when she attacks Lenny’s family. Babe is the baby sister who married a wealthy lawyer and did her best to be the perfect southern wife. However, she has gotten into a bit of trouble. She commits adultery and when her husband finds out, he beats the boy. Babe is so upset that she shoots her husband. All three sisters are considered crazy because of their mother’s suicide. They continue to carry this label and attempt to overcome this.This is a heartwarming story of three sisters each dealing with their own personal issues as well as the issues brought on by how they were treated when they were growing up. Although it appears to be stereotypical southern in its humor and behavior, there is honesty and truth that underlies the relationships and values of society that are portrayed.

  • Highlyeccentric
    2019-04-11 01:29

    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.

  • Lauren
    2019-04-20 03:27

    To be fair to Crimes of the Heart, I’m not a fan of dysfunctional family dramas. While I occasionally like them, I mostly find them an overused and overtired ‘genre’ and think American theatre would be stronger if they steered clear of them for at least a decade. Find a new way to be creative, playwrights. And if you must rely on a dysfunctional family, use the dysfunction as a starting point rather than the primary plot. That’s what I thought Crimes of the Heart was going to do.The play starts strong. Three sisters – still living under the shadow of their mother’s notorious suicide – reunite after the youngest sister shoots her husband. Despite being about yet another dysfunctional family, it felt like was going to quickly dash off in creative and wonderful directions. But the play stalls, and the result is a story that, perhaps in a nod to some post-modernism, deconstructionist impulse, never escapes the family dynamics or even develops much of a story. It’s talking without much resolution, and much as I hate the rush-rush-rush-constant-action approach of entirely too many Hollywood films, Crimes of the Heart needed some of that mindless adrenaline.Parts of Crimes of the Heart did grab my attention. Plus, it’s always welcome (and remains too rare) to see female characters as leads and predominately playing against other women. All the same: not recommended.

  • Jessica Barkl
    2019-04-02 03:07

    I read this play, originally, in my junior year of high school for a scene study class I was taking with Cheryl-Ann Rossi. I remember, initially, being shocked by all the "seemingly" innocent characters being so sexual, it seems normal. Age, I suppose, I was a late bloomer. Anyway, I still love the characters and it reminded me on this later read of Chekhov's THREE SISTERS. I also was surprised that the ending didn't work as well for me as it did in 1995...I didn't care as much for Babe this time. I started watching the film last night and Sissy Spacek helps me like the character of Babe, so, I guess, it's one of the age-old stories of theater where the script is a blueprint for the director, actors, and designers to improve upon. Anyway, I also was surprised that these people did not seem well-to-do to me. They seemed like a lot of lower-class people I know in Northern Idaho, but, I realized this has to do with Southern culture...and some historical trauma that allows this sense of entitlement for not a lot of work. Anyway, well-structured, fun characters...a chestnut, but...good for the college program I work for who is producing it in Winter quarter 2012.

  • Katy
    2019-04-03 03:06

    As part of my research for finding monologues to perform in acting class this semester, Crimes of the Heart was one of the few where a monologue is spoken by a young female character (such a shame).While it was an enjoyable read, I found the language spoken by the characters a little difficult to get used to. I couldn't quite put my finger but the way the sisters interacted with each other, and Babe's personality, didn't quite mesh well for me in most scenes. Though I enjoyed how each sister was different, there wasn't much between the lines I find to be very interesting even though the circumstances for the family gathering are. The fifteen/twenty pages towards the ending had me keep reading, and it is a fitting ending for the play (ambiguous)...but most of the dialogue/circumstances felt like they could do with a bit more polishing.

  • Su
    2019-03-30 03:06

    Wonderfully intricate character/relationship writing between three very different sisters from the South who come together when catastrophe strikes the family. Very accessible and humorous despite the heaviness the trials/issues they are beset with, and full of extremely genuine-feeling familial love. That last scene/image is one I'll probably always remember. You wouldn't think something as simple as surprising your sister with a birthday cake would have the kind of breathless, suspenseful stakes that it had in this scene, but it really did. I was absolutely terrified by the ramifications of someone failing to give a birthday cake to someone else... That's powerful writing when you really, truly are made to care.

  • Lilia Van
    2019-04-12 03:21

    I finished this play in a matter of one day. It is perhaps one of the best plays I've ever read, and that is an understatement. I could relate to it family-wise because I have 3 sisters and of course we've fought many times before and never often see each other nowadays because one sister is in med school and another in dental... But enough about me.I was enticed from beginning to end. I was even reading it in the middle of class and got in trouble for it, but I kept reading anyway. The second act perhaps had the most action, and then nothing much happened in the last one. With interesting and relatable characterization, a simple setting, and a plot that keeps you desiring for more, "Crimes of the Heart" delivers the package of a daunting drama that'll make you laugh and cry.

  • Anjum
    2019-04-09 04:05

    This was kind of disappointing. Crimes of the Heart is a pretty widely known play, so I was expecting more from it. But ultimately, very little happens. We don't see how a single things that's mentioned in the play ends up. So it makes me wonder why I read the whole thing or sat through a whole performance. It's not like there's some big lesson about life or mankind at the end of it. It's not like the characters are incredibly crafted like in a Tennesse William's plot-less play. No, this was just a whole lot of nothing with one interesting monologue that everyone and their mom has heard. No thanks.That being said, I think it would be an okay play to act in or even see performed live. But reading it was not the best.

  • TC
    2019-03-27 06:17

    I saw the movie (EXTREMELY true to the play) in the theatre twice--once in a theatre only a couple hours' drive from the town where it was set, and again in California. There were lots of laughs both times, but rarely at the same lines, which to my young self was very enlightening. This play is hilarious and so Southern. Someone below described it as "schlocky," I believe, but bless his heart, because this writing is true in a way that southern gothic so often is. We ALL know a Chick around here, casually cruel and nakedly socially climbing. In some ways, my very own mother is Lenny. It's a fantastic piece and very close to my heart.

  • Nicolas
    2019-04-24 01:14

    Really interesting play. It was enjoyable to read. The unique roles and relationships within would make this a great challenge for any performer. The bond of the three sisters is the core of this comedy/drama, but it works well as an ensemble piece as well. The men in the story expose another side of these sisters and provide a nice depth and change of pace to keep things interesting. In some ways the end leaves you hanging, but it seems to me that the purpose of this tale is to explore the characters and not to bring closure to everyone involved. It's a slice-of-life kind of play. Very interesting.

  • Rachel
    2019-04-20 05:18

    Beth Henley's play seems unsure whether it wishes to be a heart warming drama or a caricature filled comedy, and in this confusion the point of the play seemed to fall through the cracks. In the process of telling the story of the reunion of three sisters in a small town in Mississippi, Crimes of the Heart sometimes shines with vivid and empathetic characterization, but too often cannot break away from cliched 'types'. The exposition was often messy, and the ending emotionally unsatisfying except on a very shallow level, but there are a number of scenes that many actresses would be delighted to play.

  • J.
    2019-04-17 03:23

    I saw this play at McArthur theatre in Princeton, NJ. I have to say they did a phenomenal job performing. I understand it was extremely difficult to play such crazy characters, but I think they pulled it off very well. However, as far as the play itself goes, I think it was a little too Chekhovian. I heard that the author herself had somewhat of an obsession with Chekhov, I think it influenced her quite a lot. Maybe I am reading too much in to it, but having just seen the "Three Sisters" recently, the similarities are quite striking.

  • Lexi Goyette
    2019-03-27 06:11

    For me, this play didn't follow through the way I would have liked it to. There were a lot of phone calls, which - in my opinion - should be used sparingly in plays. I liked the characters a lot, especially Babe, and while I enjoyed her subplot the most, I was a little distracted by what else was going on - especially Meg's plot - which were petty compared to what Babe was dealing with.Overall, though, this is a good example of feminist theatre, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors and highlighting real issues women deal with, especially domestic abuse.

  • Chuck O'Connor
    2019-04-14 07:25

    The idiosyncratic characters, and the use of absurdism to address mental illness and tragedy, almost make up for the creaky structure. The default to clumsy expository speeches and devices however stop the forward action too often and the deus ex machina that resolves the story's central tension is disappointing. I like the characters and the themes are interesting but Henley seems unsure of a larger point and therefore falls victim to superficial plot mechanics, where she could have created more discernible and authentic conflict.

  • Jayne Furlong
    2019-03-28 08:09

    This play is a beautiful exploration of family dynamics. Well written story with a great American gothic feel. Very interesting characters... I love stories like this, that make you really experience each character's emotions and struggles. There are so many memorable moments that made me laugh yet also feel the immense sadness each character carries with them. This plot is just strange enough to be completely believable :)

  • Pinky
    2019-03-31 01:31

    The quirkiest of characters. Three southern sisters brought together after the youngest shoots her husband. Crazy, crazy stuff going on - multiple affairs and bad judgment, aging grandparents, a mom whose hung herself in the basement, tarnished reputations, pecans, chocolates and birthday cake. I'm not exaggerating when I say I'm not sure there's any meaning to this play other than the power of sisters and laughter, often inappropriate and in the midst of tragedy.

  • Julia Curtis
    2019-04-12 03:11

    Wow, this was a lot better than I thought it would be. I had picked this out randomly at a shop in New York city, not hoping for the best. I had no idea what to expect. But it was actually worth the read!I'm a bit of a theater geek, so I really got into the characters. Not to give any spoilers, but it had some twists in the book that I didn't expect, and I was even a bit scared at one point!I am hoping that somewhere in the future I will be able to act in this show!