Crimes of the Heart

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For the film, see Crimes of the Heart (film).
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 December 9, 1980 (1980-12-09)
Place premiered Manhattan Theater Club
New York City, New York
Original language English
Genre Black comedy
Setting Hazelhurst, Mississippi

Crimes of the Heart (1979) is a play by American playwright Beth Henley. It is set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in the mid-20th century.


At the core of the tragic comedy are 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 trio was 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.


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, and it was named co-winner. The play was produced in February 1979 at the company's annual festival of New American Plays. The production was extremely well received, and the play was selected by numerous regional theatres for their 1979-80 season. The show starred Lee Anne Fahey, Kathy Bates, and Susan Kingsley.

At the end of 1980, the Manhattan Theatre Club staged the play's New York City premiere for a limited, sold-out engagement of thirty-two performances. After thirteen previews, the Broadway production, directed by Melvin Bernhardt, set design by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Patricia McGourty, and lighting by Dennis Parichy, opened on November 4, 1981 at the John Golden Theatre, where it ran for 535 performances. The opening night cast included Mia Dillon, Mary Beth Hurt, Lizbeth MacKay, Raymond Baker, Sharon Ullrick, and Peter MacNicol. The play's success led to productions in London's West End, Chicago, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston. The play continues to be a popular choice for community theatre and summer stock productions.

A revival production at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre ran from April 16, 2001 to May 14, 2001. It was directed by Garry Hynes, and featured Julia Murney (Chick), Enid Graham (Lenny), and Mary Catherine Garrison (Babe). The play was nominated for the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Revival of the season.

A Roundabout Theatre Company Off-Broadway production, based on a 2007 Williamstown Theatre Festival production, was directed by Kathleen Turner. It ran February 14, 2008 to April 20 and featured Lily Rabe (Babe), Jennifer Dundas (Lenny), Sarah Paulson (Meg) and Jessica Stone (Chick).[1]


The 1986 film adaptation was directed by Bruce Beresford. It garnered three Academy Award nominations, including one for Henley for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Lizbeth MacKay
Peter MacNicol
  • 1982 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1982 Tony Award, Best Featured Actress in a Play
Mia Dillon
Mary Beth Hurt
  • 1982 Tony Award, Best Direction of a Play (Melvin Bernhardt)
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play (Mary Beth Hurt)
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play


  1. ^ Ernio Hernandez (January 29, 2008). "Roundabout Shifts Crimes of the Heart Opening to Valentine's Day". Playbill. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 

External links[edit]