What is the most important event that occurs in Act I of Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley takes place in Mississippi in the 1970s.  At the heart of the story are the MaGrath sisters: Lenny, Meg, and Babe.  Each sister has her own problems, but one of them has committed an actual crime.  The entire play takes place in the family home's kitchen.  The play covers two days in the sisters’ lives.

Eccentric would be an appropriate label for the MaGrath sisters.  They are reuniting for two reasons: Granddaddy has had a stroke and is in a coma; and Babe, the youngest sister, has shot her husband in the stomach.  

In the first act, the author introduces the characters along with her concerns.There are many more problems that each sister deals with in her own inappropriate way:

  • Their mother committed suicide and hung her cat alongside.
  • Granddaddy, the family patriarch, has serious health issues and is in a coma in the hospital.
  • Lenny is unable to have children and broke up with her boyfriend without telling him.
  • The first day of the play is Lenny’s thirtieth birthday.
  • Meg, who is talented, wants to be a famous singer. She dumped a man who now has married and has two children.  Both Meg and the man really loved each other.
  • Babe shot her husband in the stomach.
  • Babe’s lawyer has a personal vendetta against Babe’s husband.

How the sisters handle these issues propels the play forward.

Other than the grandfather’s illness, the biggest fear is Babe’s being charged with attempted murder of her husband Zachary, who is a state senator.  After Meg arrives, the sisters gather around, and Babe explains why she shot her husband.

The sordid story involves Babe having an affair with a fifteen year old black boy, Willie Jay. The sisters are surprised but surprisingly not appalled.  Babe includes the information that the boy was the best lover that she had ever had.  

Willie Jay comes over to visit Babe’s pet, Dog.  Zachary is there, and he punches the boy in the face and shoves him off  the porch hurting his arm.

He tells Willie Jay: Don’t you ever come around her again or I’ll have them cut out your gizzard!

Babe says that she begins to think about her mother committing suicide, and she did not want to repeat her mother’s mistakes. Babe decides that she wants to kill her husband. She gets out the gun, aims for his heart, and hits him in the stomach. Zachary will live; however, he is going to make Babe pay for this. 

Now, all of the basic information has been provided for the audience. The sisters have a lot to accomplish in the next two acts.  It is obvious that the problems of the past will fade into the background as the MaGrath sisters stand firmly behind Babe.  Family comes before anything else. 


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