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 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.


The tragic comedy 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.


  • Lenny Magrath, age 30, the oldest sister
  • Chick Boyle, age 29, their first cousin
  • Doc Porter, age 30, Meg's old boyfriend
  • Meg Magrath, age 27, the middle sister
  • Babe Botrelle, age 24, the youngest sister
  • Barnette Lloyd, age 26, Babe's lawyer


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. [1]

The play was produced in February 1979 at the Actors Theatre annual festival of New American Plays. The production starred Lee Anne Fahey (Babe), Kathy Bates (Lenny), Susan Kingsley (Meg) and Nicola Sheara (Chick).[2] The production was extremely well received, and the play was selected by numerous regional theatres for their 1979-80 season.

The Manhattan Theatre Club produced the play Off-Broadway at Stage 73, from December 9, 1980 to January 11, 1981 for 35 performances,[3]in a sold-out engagement.

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 featured Mia Dillon (Babe), Mary Beth Hurt (Meg), Lizbeth MacKay (Lenny), Raymond Baker (Doc Porter), Sharon Ullrick (Chick Boyle), and Peter MacNicol (Barnette Lloyd).[4]

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).[5] 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.[6]

A Roundabout Theatre Company Off-Broadway production, based on the 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).[7]

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.


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

Critical response[edit]

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."[8]

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
  • 2002 Lucille Lortel Award, Outstanding Revival


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

External links[edit]