A Critique of Crimes of the Heart, a Play by Beth Henley

Crimes of The Heart is a play known for its placement and time period. It is not only a discovery of family and life but a discovery of a time period. Without knowledge of the south and of the 70s, one could not fully understand and appreciate the depth of the play as a whole. In the southern 70s, the world was riddled with racism and manners.

Though the south still holds some of these values to be true, a lot has changed, and America specifically no longer experiences the beliefs of this time period.

While some could argue that times have not yet changed, a lot has happened since 1970, and the world is not in any way the same in these respects. If I were a director of this play, I would make great strides to both modernize and contextualize the scenes and the theme as a whole.

The Magrath sisters are some of the most outwardly insane characters to ever hit the playwriting history of the time.

They depicted family in a very different way and speak to us on levels that are easy to conceptualize without analysis. To make this easier for audiences, I would begin the play with a brief background, and make it clear that racism is a big deal. I would also make Mama killing herself an obviously big deal, it was not as universally accepted that suicide was an acceptable option to the end of one’s life.

Though suicide is still sad now, it was a bigger deal back then to kill oneself, especially to take another life with yours.

Murder has never been okay, but it seems we have become numb as a nation to the effects of murder and suicide, it is all too come to hear of a death or sudden death. The south was riddled with manners, and the Magrath sisters (besides Lenny) did not care much for keeping up with them.  

Lenny is the most to the times lady of the bunch, which makes it hard from a viewer’s perspective to see that Lenny is more normal while Meg and Babe are uncommon. It seems that Lenny comes across at the more insane one, staying in, never marrying, abiding by the so-called “rules.” Meg and Babe, to me, and to audiences in these modern times, have the effect of seeming just a touch off from normal, they each have their issues, it’s because of this that they are more relatable to people of our time. In 1970, people like Meg and Babe in the South were doing life completely wrong and were out of the social span of appropriateness. Looking back, they really weren’t that bad compared to what people do now. In order to combat this and to be sure that audiences understand Meg and Babe were really doing things that were unacceptable and out of the norm, I would reformat scenes to point out the craziness that was the lives of these women. Leaving home is normal for us, having thoughts and attempts of suicide is numb to us, the play doesn’t hit as hard when no one understands the depth of the topics.

If it were acceptable to completely change the play, I would change to more time appropriate topics, for example; race is not much of an issue anymore, but the topic of esbian sex being portrayed on screen or stage is much more of a common problem we are dealing with. Though it could be said that gay issues have been taken care of as we have passed marriage laws, it would actually mirror racial issues of the time; people knew that it was okay in marriage laws, but they still had a problem with the idea of race or for us, with the idea of gays. In the case that the topic could be taken to a more extreme state, the topic of abortion could fare quite nicely as a topic of debate. With people on either side of the conversation currently at odds, and with Planned Parenthood being shot up or shut down, this could definitely have some hard hitting spots in the show. For example, if Babe had gotten an abortion because she was abused by Doc, that would be a completely different story, but also one that would fare well with our audiences. This would become a much bigger topic for debate, and the show would spread for good and bad reviews. While this could be considered a risk, I think that putting a racial difference in the show was a risk in the 70s, so this is justifiable.

As for the scenes dealing with suicide, which I aforementioned is a topic numb to our time, I would replace the idea of suicide/animal murder with mass killings for religious reasons. It seems that these days there is nothing scarier than the threats of ISIS, which is not just because they are terrorists, but because they do so in the name of a religion that does not support their claims. In fact, their choices have made it quite hard for people of faith to act in everyday life, people are afraid of anyone they see of Islamic culture. These attacks have become a poster board of aggression in this age. Creating a depth such as this within the show would popularize it greatly, so long as it is clear there is no attack on Islam, perhaps there could even be an undertone that it is not okay to assume everyone of the faith is a terrorist. While this could be hard to pull off, it would also be an incredible change (though it would not honor the text), and it would completely remake the show as a whole. In fact, I could probably start writing a play write now completely based on this topic and make millions. But I will not, as I don’t have the means or willpower, or information… or time to research that information.

Perhaps someone of this descent will write one about what it’s like to experience the racial tensions of this time. Which leads me to my next idea – make the change racially to someone of Islamic faith, and have them contemplating the murder of peoples in the nearest area for the faith – though this would be much too controversial, imagine how much weight it would hold in our society.

Crimes of The Heart explores racial and suicidal tensions; it also looks into mental health. Meg and Babe are both mentally unstable, and though they pretend to have their lives together from time to time, they really don’t. I don’t think that mental instability is appropriately time driven in this day and age, so I would probably offset that with gender issues. The defining issue with mental health is if it’s actually an issue we need to talk about. The same goes for gender divisions now. Is feminism really an issue, or are  people just being over sensitive(this could also replace the racism issue). Whether or not gender should be a topic of conversation is half of the conversation to be had about gender, so by applying it to Crimes of The Heart, one directly attacks the idea of gender issues we are experiencing. To apply this, I would make Grandaddy an actual character in the show, or at least make it clear that he is controlling of their lives, and that the girls do not have enough room to fight for their rights. The girls would not be able to make their own decisions or have jobs, and if Meg did have a job, it would make her less money than the men doing the same thing. This would bring to light the social discrepancies that we are living with, and point out that women are, in fact, put down by the society that we live in. If this was a take on the show, I would be sure to include the things that women gain from a male dominated society, including the benefits that we receive from being a lesser gender.

Crimes of The Heart will most likely always be a relatable play, it is written so that one can research and reflect on a period of time in history, and be able to understand the reasons why it was so effective. In saying that, there are many ways to modernize this show that would make it more meaningful to audiences today. By changing the play’s underlying tones, it becomes a play of not only social issues but of family too. The problem with humans is that we have trouble placing ourselves in other people’s shoes when we have not lived through something similar. I believe that by making any of these changes to the text, the result would be a new blockbuster. The changes directly attack the social issues we are dealing with now while staying true to the original text in any way possible. The racism, manners, suicide, and mental health issues that we deal with are changing in weight as our society grows, and adjusting for different social issues can be pivotal to the success of a show.

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