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Theatre / Crimes of the Heart

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Crimes of the Heart is a 1979 play by Beth Henley.

The play is set "five years after Hurricane Camille", so, 1974, in the small town of Hazelhurst, Mississippi. It is the story of the three sisters of the dysfunctional Magrath family—Lenora aka "Lenny", Meg, and Rebecca aka "Babe", who have convened in the old family home after Babe shot her abusive husband. The other sisters have their own problems: the shy Lenny can't bear children, while Meg, a singer, has recently had a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile their grandfather, who raised them, is dying in the hospital. Various past troubles and resentments surface as the sisters are reunited.

Kathy Bates played Lenny in the original stage production. In 1986 the play was adapted into a star-studded film directed by Bruce Beresford, with Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek as Lenny, Meg, and Babe respectively.


  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Lenny has some criticisms of Meg. "She began drinking and smoking when she was only 14, she hardly made good grades, why, she never even made her bed!"
  • As You Know: A fair bit of this, like when Lenny tells Babe stuff Babe already knows about how Doc and Meg's relationship worked out.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Their mother committed suicide. Their father abandoned them. Meg had a nervous breakdown. Babe shot an abusive husband. Lenny has crippling shyness.
  • Book Ends: Begins with Lenny having her lonely One-Person Birthday Party, ends with Meg and Babe giving her a birthday cake one day late.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Babe's affair with teenaged Willie began when she took in Willie's pet dog, named "Dog".
  • Domestic Abuse: Zackery regularly beat his wife, Babe.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Less than 24 hours, from one afternoon to the next morning.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Cousin Chick, the fourth granddaughter of Old Granddaddy, who is arrogant and condescending and quite the Moral Guardian. None of the sisters can stand her.
  • The Ghost:
    • Zackery, the husband that Babe shot, discussed frequently but never seen.
    • Ditto "Old Granddaddy", currently in the hospital, very ill after a series of strokes. Basically Meg was his favorite, and it was his disapproval that caused Lenny to break it off with the man she met via a lonely hearts' club.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Near the end of the play, Babe attempts to kill herself by sticking her head in the oven, only for Meg to walk in and save her.
  • Maybe Ever After: Barnett, the lawyer who takes up Babe's case. He gives her a lot of Meaningful Looks. In his last scene, as he's leaving, he says to her "we'll talk"—and he says it "with love", per the stage direction.
  • Old Flame: Doc and Meg for each other. Meg got scared at the thought of commitment after their romantic night together during Hurricane Camille, and left for Hollywood. They obviously still have feelings for each other, but Doc, who has since gotten married and has two little children, is OK with his choices.
  • One-Person Birthday Party: Begins with Lenny, alone in the kitchen, trying to stick a birthday candle in a cookie.
  • Raised by Grandparents: The Magrath sisters were raised by their grandparents after their father left the family and their mother killed herself.
  • Really Gets Around: Meg has a history, which her sister Lenny throws back in her face.
    Meg: Look, I know I've had too many men. Believe me, I've had way too many men.
  • Shrinking Violet: Lenny

Alternative Title(s): Crimes Of The Heart