Crimes of the Heart

Crimes of the Heart

Original Broadway poster
Written by Beth Henley
Characters Babe Botrelle
Meg Magrath
Lenny Magrath
Barnette Lloyd
Doc Porter
Chick Boyle
Date premiered 1979
Place premiered Actors Theatre of Louisville
Original language English
Genre Black comedy
Setting Hazelhurst, Mississippi

Crimes of the Heart is a play by American playwright Beth Henley. It is set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in the mid-20th century. The play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. In 1986, the play was novelized and released as a book, written by Claudia Reilly.[1]


The tragicomedy relates the story of the three Magrath sisters, Meg, Babe, and Lenny, who reunite at Old Granddaddy's home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, after Babe shoots her abusive husband. The sisters were raised in a dysfunctional family with a penchant for ugly predicaments. Each has endured her share of hardship and misery. Past resentments bubble to the surface as the sisters are forced to deal with assorted relatives and past relationships while coping with Babe's latest incident. Each sister is forced to face the consequences of the "crimes of the heart" she has committed.

Production history

Henley completed her play in 1978 and submitted it to several regional theatres without success. Unknown to her, a friend entered it in the Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.[2] The play was first performed in February 1979 at the Actors Theatre Louisville and it was named co-winner of the contest. The play continued to be developed, with productions in Los Gatos, California, St. Louis, and Baltimore at the Centre Stage Theatre.[3]

The Manhattan Theatre Club produced the play Off-Broadway at Stage 73, from December 9, 1980, to January 11, 1981, for 35 sold-out performances,.[4]

The play opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre on November 4, 1981, and closed on February 13, 1983, after 535 performances and 13 previews. Directed by Melvin Bernhardt, the set design was by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Patricia McGourty, and lighting by Dennis Parichy. The cast also featured Raymond Baker (Doc Porter) and Peter MacNicol (Barnette Lloyd).[5]Holly Hunter made her Broadway debut as a replacement in the role of Meg. J. Smith-Cameron also made her debut later in the run as Babe. The Broadway cast also performed in a production at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1983.[6]

The first London production was in 1983 at the Bush Theatre. The first Chicago production was at the Blackstone Theatre in 1983.[7]

An Off-Broadway revival at Second Stage Theatre ran from April 16, 2001 to May 13, 2001. It was directed by Garry Hynes, and featured Julia Murney (Chick), Enid Graham (Lenny), Mary Catherine Garrison (Babe), and Amy Ryan (Meg).[8] The play was nominated for the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Revival.

The play was presented at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in August 2007, directed by Kathleen Turner and featuring Jennifer Dundas, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Kali Rocha.[9] This production was moved to the Roundabout Theatre Company for an Off-Broadway run. It ran February 14 to April 20, 2008 with Jessica Stone replacing Rocha as Chick.[10]

Historical casting

Character 1979 Louisville cast 1980 Manhattan Theatre Club cast 1981 Broadway cast 1983 London cast 1986 Film cast
Rebecca MaGrath/Babe Botrelle Lee Anne Fahey Mia Dillon Wendy Morgan Sissy Spacek
Lenny MaGrath Kathy Bates Lizbeth MacKay Brenda Blethyn Diane Keaton
Meg MaGrath Susan Kingsley Mary Beth Hurt Amanda Redman Jessica Lange
Chick Boyle Nicola Sheara Julie Nesbit Sharon Ullrick Janine Duvitski Tess Harper

Film adaptation

The 1986 film adaptation was directed by Bruce Beresford. It garnered three Academy Award nominations, Beth Henley was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Tess Harper was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and Sissy Spacek for Lead Actress for her performance as Babe.

Critical response

Charles Isherwood, in his review of the 2008 revival for The New York Times called the production "a touching revival", and wrote: "Was another romp through Ms. Henley’s playfully Gothic imagination entirely necessary? Perhaps not. Might regular theatergoers eventually tire of these adorable eccentrics, laughing through their tears and crying themselves back to laughter again? Possibly... Interesting roles for women, on screen or behind it, are hard to come by. The quick return of 'Crimes of the Heart,'... gives another handful of talented women a chance to exercise — and, in the case of Ms. Turner, deepen — their gifts onstage."[11]

Awards and nominations

Lizbeth MacKay
Peter MacNicol
Mia Dillon
Mary Beth Hurt


  1. Crimes of the Heart Goodreadsaccessed 11/23/2016
  2. Andreach, Robert J. "Chapter 2" Understanding Beth Henley, Univ of South Carolina Press, 2006, ISBN 157003639X, p. 8
  3. "'Crimes of the Heart' 1979, Actors Thratre", accessed November 18, 2015
  4. "'Crimes of the Heart' 1980", accessed November 18, 2015
  5. "'Crimes of the Heart' Broadway", accessed November 18, 2015
  6. Holly Hunter on her theater rootsaccessed 11/23/2016
  7. [ The Plays of Beth Henley]accessed 11/23/2016
  8. Simonson, Robert. "Henley's Crimes Spree Ends at Second Stage, May 13" Playbill, May 13, 2001
  9. Hetrick, Adam. "Paulson, Rabe and Rocha Commit 'Crimes of the Heart' at Williamstown; Turner Directs" Playbill, August 8, 2007
  10. Ernio Hernandez (January 29, 2008). "Roundabout Shifts Crimes of the Heart Opening to Valentine's Day". Playbill. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  11. Isherwood, Charles. "Theater Review. 'Crimes of the Heart'" New York Times, February 15, 2008
  12. "Pulitzer Prize for Drama", accessed November 18, 2015

External links

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