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There are four substantial roles for females in Beth Henley's play Crimes of the Heart and the oldest female is only 30 years old. This 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a terrific source of scenes for young female actors.
The play itself is an entertaining tragicomedy, but because of certain content issues (see details among descriptions below), this play is rarely performed at the high school level. Nonetheless, theatre teachers should be aware of the excellent material that this play offers for females.
Note: This is the first of a two-part article. The scenes described below come from Act I of the play. Be sure to explore scenes from Acts 2 and 3.
All of the action takes place in the kitchen of the Hazlehurst, Mississippi home that Lenny Magrath shares with her grandfather, Old Grandaddy. In the script, the time is specified as “In the fall, five years after Hurricane Camille,” which means 1974.
Lenny - Is the oldest of the three Magrath sisters. The action of the play begins on her 30th birthday. This character is a sweet, somewhat frumpy, frustrated, unmarried woman.
Babe - Is the youngest sister. She is a pretty, flighty, funny, thoughtful, naïve, and a bit troubled 24-year-old.
Meg - The middle sister (age 27), is a fickle, whimsical, partying singer who avoids problems and conflicts whenever she can.
Chick - (age 29) Is the annoying, opinionated, insulting busy-body cousin who lives next door.
The three Magrath sisters grew up next door to their cousin Chick in the house that belongs to the grandfather of all four girls. The sisters moved there after their father deserted the family and their mother committed suicide in a bizarre and newsworthy way: She hung herself and at the same time, she hung the family cat.
Now, years later, the family is dealing with another bizarre and newsworthy event: Babe has just shot her husband. Because she did not fatally wound him, she is out on bail and staying at Old Granddaddy's house where her sister Lenny still lives.
Six Scenes in Act I
1. Characters: Chick and Lenny
Chick pops over to Lenny's kitchen and their conversation reveals the following:
- Babe's current predicament.
- Chick's low opinion of Meg.
- Meg, who lives out of town, is somehow responsible for the limp of a man called Doc Porter.
- Today is Lenny's birthday.
- Chick is a cheap, shallow, critical, irritating relative.
Chick: Lenny! Oh Lenny!
Chick: I'm sorry, but not in these modern washing machines.
(6 pages long)
2. Characters: Meg and Lenny
Meg arrives unannounced and her conversation with Lenny reveals that:
- Babe says she shot her husband Zackery (the richest and most powerful man in town) because she didn't like his looks.
- Babe has a young lawyer who got her out on bail.
- Old Granddaddy is in the hospital.
- Meg has not read any of the letters Lenny wrote her.
- Meg's singing career has gone nowhere.
- Doc Porter is married and has two children.
- Babe is just about to arrive.
Meg: I'm home! Anybody home?
Meg: And what a stupid-looking pot! Who'd buy it, anyway?
3. Characters: Babe, Lenny, Chick, and Meg
Chick has delivered Babe from jail to Lenny's house. In this scene, the animosity that the sisters have towards Chick and that Chick has towards them becomes more apparent.
Babe refuses to discuss the real reason that she shot her husband and proudly displays her new saxophone.
Babe: Lenny! I'm home! I'm free!
Please don't let them die!
4. Characters: Meg and Babe
Meg and Babe discuss why their mother hung herself and why their father may have left the family.
Meg reveals that the reason she shot her husband is because she was trying to protect someone else.
Babe: Has she gone?
Babe: I like a lot of sugar in mine. I'm gonna add some more sugar.
5. Characters: Meg and Babe
The sisters discuss Lenny's lack of a love life and reveal that Lenny is troubled because she believes she has a shrunken ovary.
Babe fills Meg in on the man that Lenny met through the Lonely Hearts Club.
Babe and Meg decide to purchase an enormous birthday cake for Lenny.
Babe: Boy, I don't know what's happening to Lenny.
Meg: Give me some more of that birthday cake!
6. Characters: Meg and Babe
Meg gets Babe to admit that her marriage to Zackery is in tough shape.
Babe tells Meg about her affair with a 15-year-old black boy and how Zachary assaulted and threatened the boy.
Babe then describes how she shot her husband.
Meg: Babe! Babe, come down here! Babe!
Babe: I'm hoping.
All of these scenes Act 1 are available to view these scenes on youtube.