We had to do a blog entry for school today and I thought I would copy and paste it to here as well (might as well kill two birds). I know some of the formatting is a little weird (mainly names and texts) but it is something the instructor is letting us do. I read CRIMES OF THE HEART earlier this morning and really enjoyed it. I felt the characters (mainly the sisters) were complex and interesting.
(change in productions – couldn’t find one long video)
“A play is an attempt to understand some truth about human beings and their world” (Naked Playwriting).
What do you think playwright Beth Henley wants to tell us about the world of the three sisters in “Crimes of the Heart”? How does she use the elements of drama (conflict, truth, spectacle, structure, unity, character, and action) to tell us what she wants to tell us?
Earlier today, before I sat down to read CRIMES OF THE HEART, I was wasting time on Facebook and I came across a quote that struck me. To paraphrase, the quote was about moments and how we are all the moments in our lives: good and bad, the ones we emphasize and the ones we do not – everything counts. I think that train of thought is at the heart of what Beth Henley’s play is confronting: the moments that impact our lives, how we respond to them and how they shape who we are.
There are multiple themes at play in CRIMES. From death to social conformity and self image to love, there are a range of topics being addressed. The highlight themes revolve around the family and their meaning to each other.
There is a bevy of conflict in CRIMES. The reason everyone is in the Kitchen is because everyone came to support BABE, who is on trial for shooting her husband ZACKERY. That conflict (which is also the driving action for the play) is centered among other instances. CHICK and her need for social/moral/bitchy pompousness combats with the general nature of MEG (and also with LENNY – so much so that by the end of it LENNY snaps, starts hitting CHICK with a broom and chases her up a tree). LENNY can’t get laid and spends the majority of her time tending to other people – often putting her needs and wants on the back burner. MEG is having an existential crisis paired with the lasting trauma of finding her mother’s corpse. BARNETTE is fulfilling a pseudo-life-debt to his father and DOC clearly misses MEG. All of this conflict acts to show the unity between the three sisters. Despite their own squabbles, their bond perseveres. That is very important to CRIMES.
The thing about the aspect of spectacle in this play is that I wish I would have seen it first and not have read it. The reason I say that is because I keep focusing on the BABE hanging scene. The stage direction says it is a “loud, horrible thud” but i keep picturing her running down the stairs with the rope around her neck and that playing with a laugh. It’s perverse and probably just a product of my own diluted sensibilities, but I keep envisioning it playing out that way simply because it is so unexpected. While that was a bit of a tangent, it is a key scene when we talk about spectacle in this play. BABE has had enough, in her head her life is over. But she keeps trying to kill herself and keeps failing, with each attempt becoming more daring (and seemingly more fated not to happen) until MEG (who just had her own spectacle herself) comes in and pulls her from the stove (which, in contrast, is something their mother didn’t have and is important to Henley’s overall theme – and I will get to it). Any good spectacle are the moments when the truth seems to get a little brighter: After running out CHICK, LENNY realizes she should call back CHARLIE; After MEG saw DOC she started singing and developed a rosier outlook; after being pulled from the stove BABE realized she wasn’t her mother. Revelations don’t usually come from subtle moments of clarity. You have to be pushed to the extreme to see things in a new light.
LENNY, MEG and BABE are all so very different but share similar complexities. The other characters in the play seem to have basic a-to-b desires. CHICK wants status. BARNETTE wants ZACKERY’s head on a pike. DOC wants MEG. The MaGrath sisters all have secular wants and needs but there is this emotional/metaphysical hole inside of them (which is rooted in losing their parents at an early age). In some ways they try to address it in actions they take prior to the start of (and at the start of) the play. LENNY steps into the role of her passed grandmother in an attempt to stabilize her existing family structure (it could also be an example of why she tolerated CHICK for so long). MEG runs away (much like her father) in a seeming effort to disregard anything that happened and just exist. BABE creates her own family and inserts herself as her own mother (which could begin to explain the actions that were the impetus for the play). At some point during the middle of act three, their personal faults seemingly break (by the hands of spectacle) and they just exist – which could be what Henley is confronting.
(I have two endings)
In 2005 I first went to school for business administration. When I switched to English (about a year after) my dad would always joke that I would write in an attempt to solve questions like the meaning of life. Being the brash 19-year-old I was, I would tell him the meaning of life is to live. And while that is incredibly simplistic (and I’m not as much of a dick as I was back then) I still believe. And I think Henley is speaking to that in CRIMES. These characters have had so many horrible things happen to them and they spent a significant portion of their lives contemplating them. By the end of the play, I think they realize that. That’s why LENNY’s wish was important. It illustrated a time where they could just “be”.
In December I read ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy. It stuck in my head the majority of the time while reading CRIMES. CHICK really reminded me of the role society played in ANNA KARENINA. It wasn’t so much the act that killed ANNA it was living with the aftermath. I think that is why it is so important that LENNY drove CHICK from the house. If CHICK was there I think BABE would have killed herself like her mother because that is what society deemed to become of her. With CHICK gone, BABE, MEG and LENNY were able to exist and love one another without any cause for convention and that is the main truth from Henley’s play.