What is the essential nature of the play?What is the play really about, beyond the surface?
This is a good question because Crimes of the Heart is a play that treats the depth of human nature and emotion, and which brings out the essential needs and weaknesses of all individuals in an attempt to invite the audience to think twice before generalizing the actions of others. The way Henley achieves this is by bringing the comedy out of some very sad and tragic situations as if saying, in not so many words, "such is life, what else can we do?" To put it in a colloquial way: Henley puts the "fun" back in dysfunctional.
The tale of three sisters that are about to meeting again, the play explores each of the sisters' lives under the scope of how the distress of their mother's suicide has affected their choices for their futures. Each of the sisters has failed miserably at something while trying to safeguard an appearance of normality. Becky, the youngest of the sisters, is obviously the most affected one by the memories of her mother's suicide. She fails because she not only has an affair with a much younger man, but because she snaps and shoots her husband. She is suicidal, and seems to be eternally doomed by her mother's passing. In a very funny line of the script, we see a dig at Sylvia Plath when Becky tries to commit suicide by placing her head inside an oven.
Meg: Why'd you do it, Babe ? Why'd you put your head in the oven?
Babe: I don't know ... I'm having a bad day.
Then there is Lenny, the oldest sister, who grows bitter and insecure. She loves her sisters but feels robbed of many chances to be happy since she has carried with most of the responsibilities that were expected of her. One of them is to take care of Old Grandaddy. She is a woman with obviously lots to give, but not many chances to offer it. For this reason, she has become somewhat of a hermit but nevertheless one that wishes to see her family happy.
Finally there is Meg, who is the middle sister and the one who finds her mother's body when she commits suicide (the mother kills herself along with the family cat, which makes Meg become fascinated with morbidity). Meg has received most of the attention of the family, and her sisters resent that. However, Meg has also failed. She did not get enough opportunities to break it as a singer in Hollywood, she suffers a mental breakdown, and abandons her man when he becomes ill.
All these stories tell the same thing: We can only do what our heart dictates, and our heart is ruled by emotions, and not by logic. You can only do what you know to do. Such is life. There is no beginning, middle, nor end to the stories of the McGrath sisters. There is no beginning, middle, or end in anybody's life really. Not even death: Life is simply a continuous development of events. Our job is not to complete tasks, but to learn from our choices. That is the basic message that Henley brings out in the story. The reality of life is that it cannot be read like a book.