Beth Henley is often compared to fiction writers Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor for her sympathetic portrayals of eccentric characters who lead deceptively simple lives in small southern communities. Her work has also been identified with the literary traditions of the grotesque and the absurd. Henley’s unique achievement, however, is the intermingling of absurdism and realism. Her plays realistically capture the southern vernacular and take place in authentic southern settings, yet they also exaggerate the recognizable and push the bizarre to extremes to reveal the underlying absurdity of the human condition. Henley’s characters are rooted in her southern heritage, but the meaning of their experiences is not limited to time and place. Loss and renewal, the vulnerability of loving, and the frail but indomitable human spirit are among her recurring themes. Henley delivers these serious concerns, however, through unpredictable characters, outrageously witty dialogue, and offbeat humor. It is her insistence on the value of laughter in the face of adversity that places her within the tragicomic tradition of modern dramatic literature. Another of Henley’s strengths is that she approaches her craft with a keen insight into what is stageworthy. This awareness, no doubt, is one of the reasons that her first full-length play, Crimes of the Heart, won the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1981 with the distinction of being the first play to win the coveted award before appearing on Broadway. Crimes of the Heart also received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1981, and in the same year, Henley captured the prestigious George Oppenheimer/Newsday Playwriting Award. Experiments with style and theme during the 1990’s led Henley away from her Southern characters and settings, however, these plays, including Family Week, have not received critical or popular acclaim.