Category Archives: theatre history

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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The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

The Show-Off: A Transcript of Life in Three Acts by George Kelly, Copyright 1924.
In recent theater history, we have seen countless single set drawing room comedies. In 1924, however, George Kelly was seen as a pioneer Continue reading The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

Fool for Love by Sam Shepard (1983): an analysis for production

Eddie: “She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other. It was like we knew each other from somewhere but we couldn’t place where. But the second we saw each other, that very second, we knew we never stop being in love1.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? The love of Eddie and May, the central characters, does have its share of romance but the words dangerous, doomed, volatile, and visceral may more adequately describe the oscillating storm of their connection. As when the orbits of two planets intersect, attraction yields devastation.

“She's just standing there, staring at me, and I'm staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.
“She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.”

Fool2:

1:            a person lacking in judgment or prudence

2:            a :  a retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed in motley with cap, bells, and bauble

b :  one who is victimized or made to appear foolish :  a dupe

3:            a :  a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding

b :  one with a marked propensity or fondness for something <a dancing fool> <a fool for candy>

4:            a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard

Whereas I think the fourth definition is HILARIOUS, it seems that Eddie, May, the Old Man and most any of my readers would agree that they, and we, are often if not chronically “fools” for love. We enter into love with a “marked propensity or fondness for something (or someone),” and become a “harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding.” When things break bad, and we feel as if we are “dupes, victimized or made to appear foolish.” Often despite the humiliation or even danger, to Love we become the motley fool “kept in (its) great household to provide (its) casual entertainment.”

Perhaps this is best left to the theatre professors, but Shepard has a knack for creating a new mythology. As in Tooth of the Crime, Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class, Shepard expands archetypes into extraordinary icons. Just as the sins of the father become an ever-present overlord in our fated struggle, the ghostly Old Man (father to both Eddie and May) literally holds court as his fools “provide casual entertainment.” He serves as a fusion of post-realist and Greek theatrical traditions in the dual role of cautionary chorus and omniscient but ambivalent god. Eddie and May are both familiar and tragic heroes headed for cyclical fates. Martin, May’s naïve first-date gentleman caller, is simply a foil, catalyst, and innocent traveler trapped in the tempest of a natural disaster.

On the surface this play is straightforward with simplistic production requirements:

Cast: 3 men (30s-70s) / 1 women (30s)

Set: “Stark, low-rent motel (room) on the edge of the Mojave Desert”

Costumes: Contemporary, western

Royalties: $100/performance, plus suggested use of 2 Merle Haggard tunes

On further reading, the production becomes even more demanding. Fool for Love requires two strong leads in 30’s that must develop the depth of a 15-20 year complicated relationship. The set includes two doors that are “amplified with microphones and the bass drum head in the frame so that each time after (an actor) slams it, the door blooms loud and long.” It might be replaced by a sound effect, but this could easily violate Shepard’s intention to communicate the power of Eddie and May’s relationship in terms that are literally tangible to the audience, and directly and immediately connected to characters’ behaviors. Attempting to accomplish this play without physically trained actors and an experienced stage combat choreographer is foolish as it would guarantee injuries and unpredictable destruction of properties and set pieces. No organization can afford either.

Censorial concerns: 24 instances of language and phrases considered profane including “fuckin’(1),”; “twat(1),” “pussy (2)”, “goddamn (3),” “shit(5),” and crude references to sexual intercourse (2). Strong domestic violence; no sexual abuse.

Provenance:

Sam Shepard3:

  • Renowned as a canonical American author
  • Cannes Palme d’Or
  • Pulitzer Prize
  • OBIEs for “Melodrama Play” (1968), “Cowboys #2” (1968), “The Tooth of the Crime” (1972).
  • Received grants from the Rockefeller and the Guggenheim Foundations
  • Drama Desk Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play: “A Lie of the Mind” (1986)

Play:

  • Adapted into a 1985 motion picture starring Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, Harry Dean Stanton, and Randy Quaid4
  • Original production starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker1
  • New York, London
  • Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, MA on July 24, 20145

Recommendation: STRONG with caveats. Sam Shepard is quite possibly our greatest living American playwright. The setting is rural (not NYC!). The theme of destructive and unavoidable power of attraction is timeless. The central acting parts are epic. You may be lucky enough to have a certified combat choreographer in your ensemble, the budget to hire one, or even have the fortune to have her/him direct or star in your production.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1214

Available for lending from Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL

References:

  1. Fool for Love and The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.
  2. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fool (8/14/2015 3:39 PM)
  3. http://www.sam-shepard.com/aboutsam.html (8/14/2015 4:55 PM)
  4. http://www.sam-shepard.com/writer.html
  5. http://www.sam-shepard.com/writer.html