Category Archives: American playwrights

Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley: An Analysis for Production

Chick Boyle: So Rebecca, what are you going to tell Mr. Lloyd about shooting Zachery, uh, what are your reasons gonna be?

Rebeca ‘Babe’: That I didn’t like his looks. That I didn’t like his stinkin’ looks! I don’t like yours either Chickie stick. So leave me alone and I mean it. Just leave me alone!

“At the end of 1980, Crimes of the Heart was produced off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club for a limited, sold-out, engagement of thirty-two performances. By the time the play transferred to Broadway in November, 1981, Crimes of the Heart had received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Henley was the first woman to win the Pulitzer for Drama in twenty-three years, and her play was the first ever to win before opening on Broadway. Crimes of the Heart went on to garner the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New American Play, a Guggenheim Award, and a Tony nomination. The tremendously successful Broadway production ran for 535 performances, spawning regional productions in London, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston. The success of the play—and especially the prestige of the Pulitzer award—assured Henley’s place among the elite of the American theatre for years to come. As Henley herself put it, with typically wry humor, “winning the Pulitzer Prize means I’ll never have to work in a dog-food factory again” (Haller 44).” http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/crimes-heart#A

This dark comedy set in the still small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi (pop. reported in 2016 as 3,883), may well be the archetype by which all plays in this series will earn my recommendation. Crimes of the Heart is well-written, hilarious, character-driven within realistic circumstances, and portrays women as combatants in the war of life, not victims. It happens to have been written by a woman. Especially, for those of you who have read my peculiarities  IT’S NOT SET IN NYC!

It is no surprise that Crimes of the Heart remains a staple in the seasons of many theatres, even though I haven’t ever seen it here in Pleasantville. I checked the production history of our longest running community theatre and despite it being a community theatre’s wet dream (comedy, strong central roles for women, 1 interior set, inexpensive props and costumes), it has never been produced in the 50-year history of the theatre. Perhaps, early on, there were some moral concerns (murder, interracial affair with a teenager, ridiculously failed attempts at suicide)  but most all tawdriness is offstage and the story is done with so much humor, I cannot see how nearly anyone, outside of a Puritan complete with stovepipe hat, would have been, or would ever be offended. This should be produced in every season until the end of time replacing any considered future production of the The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns.

Recommendation: STRONG: YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

Cast: 4w/2m, regional accents, all characters 19-32, Doc walks with a slight limp. Casting notice: https://www.backstage.com/casting/crimes-of-the-heart-4555/

Royalties (professional): $100 per performance

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission

Costumes: approximately 13 including conservative practical dresses circa 1974 or earlier. 2 men’s costumes: 1 casual, 2 costumes for an attorney (season: fall Mississippi)

Set: single interior: 1974, kitchen of Gothic home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi with table and 4 chairs, practical sink, period oven range (1950s)

Props: saxophone case, weathered luggage circa mid-1960s, bag of pecans (some practical in shell), nylon stockings in point-of-sale packaging (1974) for each night, practical cake, antique phone, twine

Controversial topics: Suicide, infidelity, sexual relations with a minor, attempted murder, dark humor (coma).

Purchase: http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1271

Suitable for: community theatre, summer stock, regional theatre

Awards

Nominations

  • 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

Recent production reviews:

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/theater/reviews/15crim.html

DC Metro Theatre Arts: http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2016/02/28/189881/

Backstage: https://www.backstage.com/review/crimes-of-the-heart/

Twin Cities Pioneer Press: http://www.twincities.com/2014/05/11/crimes-of-the-heart-review-guthrie-theater-does-right-by-play/

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“..by Nancy…”

A Series of Analyses for Production of Plays Written by American Playwrights who Happen to Be Women

The Count, Marsha Norman’s meta-analysis of data from American regional theatre productions in the three years preceding November 2015, found that only 22% of those productions were written by women. A six-show season helmed by our most recent artistic director, a classically trained actor and outspoken feminist woman, sought to challenge our audiences with a season of diverse actors, gender ratio reversal, and non-traditional casting (andours is a Midwestern summer stock company in a town of 7500). Sadly yet, only 1 of our 6 mainstage productions was written by a woman,16%. The theme and purpose of the season was equality, not equity, but even the very female-centered works Five Women Wearing the Same Dress and Disenchanted were written by men. Stop Kiss by Diana Son and directed by Tim Seib, was a thing of beauty. Honestly, had we strived for gender equity that simultaneously promoted vigorous ticket sales leveraged by recognizable titles, we may well have been hard pressed to develop a season. Even though we have a group of alumni, referred to as the artistic ensemble, providing the artistic director and the board with inspiration tempered with patron familiarity, equity may well be one ball to many to juggle.

Nonetheless, I have dedicated the next several months to reading and sharing my analysis of the merit and viability of producing select theatre works written by American women. If you are familiar with my other analyses and commentaries, you are aware of my inflexibilities. For those of you who are not: I want to read and promote American works, preferably from 1930 to the present, with smaller casts (10 and under). Despite being born in New York and a former resident of Manhattan, I have grown very tired of shows set in the Northeast, especially NYC. Franchise shows like The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns are often money makers, but are almost entirely predigested pablum. Seeing one in a seasons any theatre makes me lash out irrationally.

Women have much to complain about. I empathize, even though I can never sympathize. I admit that I am a white middle class male in his 50s, but my curriculum vitae includes: years of living in large cities on a meager income with routine job instability, several years as a primary caregiver for children (my own and other families’), a masters degree in social work with routine professional development in disadvantaged populations, 13 years as a school social worker (a nearly exclusively women’s profession) working with victimized adults and children in rural poverty, and my clinical licensure. I am also married to a strong woman who makes more than I do and with whom I have raised two daughters who does not share my last name after nearly 24 years. I still ask this: Women playwrights and playwrights who write about women, I ask you to write works that demonstrate humans with a problem to solve who just so happen to be women. Feel free to leave your hot-flashing crotchety aunt, and your tribe of victims who get together on a Friday night and bear their souls on your hard drives and off the shelves and our stages.

I have compiled a list of titles and begun some reading. My next analysis will be Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. That will soon be followed by A Shayna Maidel by Babara Lebow. I will admit that despite my industrious reading and an undergraduate degree in theatre I am woefully ignorant of a sufficient number of excellent, non-pandering plays written by women, especially comedies. I welcome (beg?) your suggestions. Remember, I am still pushing an envelope in community with substantially more creamy filling than chocolate cookie. On the other hand, the trope of a character constantly spewing a litany of four-letter words, talking about sex acts, or making her victimhood more central than her capabilities, makes that character more tiresome than liberated. Give me fresh, provoking and especially hilarious perspectives from attorneys, police officers, entrepreneurs, parents and custodians pounded out on the keyboard of someone named Nancy or Shonda or Esperanza or Hareem or Ichika or Chengguang. I want it. Get to it. PDFs and works that are available on interlibrary loan are appreciated. I wake waves when I write, not money. GO!