Post-Show Questions for Discussion and Activities
Note to Educators: Use the following assignments, questions, and activities to have students evaluate their experience of the performance of
Crimes of the Heart, as well as to encourage their own imaginative and artistic projects through further exploration of the play in production. Consider also that some of the pre-show activities might enhance your students’ experience following the performance.
- Crimes of the Heart: Performance Reflection and Discussion. Following their attendance at the performance of Crimes of the Heart, ask your students to reflect on the questions below. You might choose to have them answer each individually or you may divide students into groups for round-table discussions. Have them consider each question, record their answers and then share their responses with the rest of the class.
Questions to Ask Your Students About the Play in Production
- What was your overall reaction to Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart? Did you find the production compelling? Stimulating? Intriguing? Challenging? Memorable? Confusing? Evocative? Unique? Delightful? Meaningful? Explain your reactions.
- Did experiencing the play heighten your awareness or understanding of the play’s themes? [e.g., Homecoming; sibling rivalry and familial discord; the burden of secrets and family history; the taboo of suicide/mental illness; kinship and consolation through the family bond; individual choice and freedom in the face of familial and social expectations; the oppression of gender/social roles and acts of female assertion and rebellion; loneliness and the varying layers and causes of heart break; the insularity and suffocative nature of small-town life, etc.] What themes were made even more apparent or especially provocative in production/performance? Explain your responses.
- Is there a moment in the play that specifically resonated with you either intellectually or emotionally? Which moment was it and why do you think it affected you?
- Do you think that the pace and tempo of the production were effective and appropriate? Explain your opinion.
Questions to Ask Your Students About the Characters
Questions to Ask Your Students About the Style and Design of the Production
- Did you personally identify with either of the characters in Crimes of the Heart? Who? Why? If no, why not?
- What character did you find most interesting or engaging? Why were you intrigued or attracted to this particular character?
- What qualities of character were revealed by the action and speech of Lenny, Meg, Babe, Doc, Barnette, and Chick? Explain your ideas.
- Did either character develop or undergo a transformation during the course of the play? Who? How? Why?
- In what ways did the characters reveal the themes of the play? Explain your responses.
- Was there a moment in Crimes of the Heart that was so compelling, intriguing, or engaging that it remains with you in your mind’s eye? Write a vivid description of that moment. As you write your description, pretend that you are writing about the moment for someone who was unable to experience the performance.
- Did the style and design elements of the production, unified under the directorial vision of Liesl Tommy enhance the performance? Did anything specifically stand out to you? Explain your reactions.
- Did the overall production style and design reflect the central themes of the story of Crimes of the Heart? Explain your response.
- What did you notice about Andromache Chalfant’s set design? Did it provide an appropriate and/or evocative setting/location for Crimes of the Heart? How and why, or why not?
- What mood or atmosphere did Ann G. Wrightson’s lighting design establish or achieve? Explain your experience.
- What did you notice about the costumes designed by Marion Williams and worn by the actors? What do you think were the artistic and practical decisions that went into the conception of the costumes?
- How did the Karin Graybash’s sound design enhance your overall experience?
- Additional Post-Show Questions and Discussion Points for Crimes of the Heart.
Throughout Crimes of the Heart we find or hear stories of Henley’s characters engaging in common activities such as eating ice cream or looking through an illustrated medical book. However, it is the juxtaposition of these two things that makes the actions of the characters slightly disturbing or downright bizarre. Henley’s quirky, signature combinations give us insight into her characters, their small town life, and the playwright’s Southern Gothic sensibility. Share the following quote by Janice Paran from “What is Southern Gothic?”with your students, and use the questions below to spark a dialogue on this distinctive writing style.
These days “Southern Gothic” encompasses all manner of lurid, mysterious, otherworldly or merely eccentric goings-on in Southern fiction, and while scholars, critics and the writers themselves variously dissect, debate or dismiss the tag, many would agree with Carson McCullers’ observation that Southern writers frequently juxtapose “the tragic with the humorous, the immense with the trivial, the sacred with the bawdy, the whole soul of man with a materialistic detail.”…Henley’s plays routinely locate the glorious histrionic streak that courses through calamity.”
An Extraordinary Moment, Transformation, and Crimes of the Heart
- What specific instances where Henley uses the juxtaposition of two contrasting things or behaviors (e.g., “the tragic with the humorous,” the immense with the trivial”) stand out in your memory from the performance? Distinguish why it spoke strongly to you. Share and discuss.
- Cite an example in which Henley employs eccentric, lurid, or mysterious juxtapositions as a coping mechanism for a character.
- What judgments, if any, do you make about the characters based on their actions? Can you analyze their motives or reasons why they do the often bizarre or fantastic things they do?
- Relate the “Southern Gothic” style to other plays, works of literature and art that you have studied. Consider what the artist or writer is trying to convey to his or her audience through the portrayal of such grotesque, eccentric, macabre, or otherworldly characterizations or events/incidents.
Typically plays focus on an extraordinary moment in the life of a character when she or he is unexpectedly confronted by someone or something and is forced to react/respond, or when he or she suddenly decides to act upon a strong desire and need and faces obstacles that stand in the way. Typically a play ends after a character involved in the confrontation/conflict is transformed, experiences a change of heart, and/or comes to some new understanding about him- or herself, about the world around him or her, or about human existence itself.
Ask your students to consider Crimes of Heart in terms of the above thoughts on drama and in terms of the questions below:
- What extraordinary moment or circumstance in the lives of the MaGrath sisters sets the plot of Crimes of the Heart in motion?
- Who do you think is the protagonist of Crimes of the Heart? (See if they can debate their way to identifying Lenny, Meg, and Babe as a “group protagonist” on their own.)
- Is Crimes of the Heart the sort of play in which the protagonist is confronted by someone or something and must react/respond, or is it a play in which the protagonist acts upon a strong desire or need? Or is it both? Explain your answer.
- What strong desires, needs or wants do Lenny, Meg and Beth express in the course of the play, and what obstacles stand in the way of them pursing or fulfilling those desires, needs or wants?
- At the end of Crimes of the Heart, do you think that any of the characters have been changed or transformed by confrontation or the conflict they have gone through? Who has been changed? What was the character like at the play’s beginning and what is s/he like when the lights fade on the final moment? What from the action of the play accounts for her or his transformation?
- Do you think the relationship of the sisters has been altered? For the better? For the worse? What will the next year look like for the MaGrath sisters of Hazlehurst?
- Eulogizing Old Granddaddy… à la Beth Henley. Crimes of the Heart ends with a celebration of Lenny’s birthday with a big gooey birthday cake, yet—and in true Southern Gothic fashion—it seems likely that this happy and renewing ritual will be followed by moribund Old Granddaddy’s last rites and funeral. Have your students embrace the world and style of Beth Henley and adopt the character, voice, attitude, and back story of one of the MaGrath sisters to write a eulogy for Old Granddaddy.
- To prepare your students to write a eulogy, ask them to share their experiences with the form of address/speech. Then have students research eulogies and tips for writing them.
- Once students have chosen the character from whose point of view they are interested in writing, ask them to consider what that character’s relationship was like with Old Granddaddy—the good and the bad. Ask them also to consider what Lenny, Meg, or Babe would want to say about Old Granddaddy or to Old Granddaddy himself.
- Although students should feel free to explore any and every avenue of their character’s biography and her relationship with Old Granddaddy to write their eulogies, one thing that must be included in their speech is at least one occurence of homage to the Southern Gothic stamp (as explored in the discussion points above and in Janice Paran’s short web article “What is Southern Gothic?”
- Students’ eulogies may be read aloud for the class—in character, of course!—and discussed. Ask students to consider what they find fitting interesting, compelling, unique, meaningful, etc., about each eulogy. Also ask students to elaborate on their intentions and process.
- Crimes of the Heart: The Review. Have your students take on the role of theater critic by writing a review of the McCarter Theatre production of Crimes of the Heart. A theater critic or reviewer is essentially a “professional audience member,” whose job is to provide reportage of a play’s production and performance through active and descriptive language for a target audience of readers (e.g., their peers, their community, or those interested in the arts). Critics/reviewers analyze the theatrical event to provide a clearer understanding of the artistic ambitions and intentions of a play and its production; reviewers often ask themselves, “What is the playwright and this production attempting to do?” Finally, the critic offers personal judgment as to whether the artistic intentions of a production were achieved, effective, and worthwhile. Things to consider before writing:
- Theater critics/reviewers should always back up their opinions with reasons, evidence, and details.
- The elements of production that can be discussed in a theatrical review are the play text or script (and its themes, plot, characters, etc.), scenic elements, costumes, lighting, sound, music, acting and direction (i.e., how all of these elements are put together). [See the Theater Reviewer’s Checklist.]
- Educators may want to provide their students with sample theater reviews from a variety of newspapers.
- Encourage your students to submit their reviews to the school newspaper for publication.