Pulitzer Prize winning play “Crimes of the Heart” comes to Tent Theatre - Reynolds College Blog (2024)

“Crimes of the Heart,” Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize winning play about three sisters and an interfering cousin living in a fictional Mississippi town, will be performed for the first time at Tent Theatre June 21-22 and 24-29, 2024.

All performances are at 8 p.m. Missouri State University alum Addie Barnhart is the director.

Family, southern gothic style

“Crimes of the Heart” is a dark comedy that follows the Magrath sisters, each of whom remains traumatized by their mother’s suicide years earlier.

To heal and move on, the three must grapple with the past. At times this is made difficult by their self-righteous cousin, Chick, who seems to enjoy reminding the sisters of their mistakes and failings.

MSU alum—and Tent Theatre veteran—Tess Harper played Chick in the 1986 film version of the play. Harper was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

The movie also starred Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek.

Adding a little bit of Ozarks to the role

Harper knows “Crimes of the Heart” very well, having not only played Chick in the film version but also playing “Lenny” in a stage production during a teaching project at the University of Georgia.

To play Chick authentically, Harper pulled from her own experience growing up in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, a small Ozarks community located about 30 minutes south of West Plains, Missouri.

She especially relied on memories of her mother for the role.

“I pulled a little bit from my mother, mostly her ability to talk really fast in a Georgia accent,” Harper laughed.

But she also adopted her mother’s know-it-all attitude toward just about everyone she knew, especially her family, to capture Chick’s sharp, self-righteous edge.

“Chick has a sugary aggression,” Harper said, a quality that reveals itself in the character’s constant complaints about how her cousins’ behaviors are ruining her social-climbing ambitions.

For Harper, who has often been selected for quieter, reflective roles, playing such a loud personality like Chick was a nice change.

“I enjoyed playing Chick so much,” she said.

Laughing in spite of yourself—the relatability of family

Harper thinks “Crimes of the Heart’s” appeal comes from its portrayal of family bonds through quirky, yet sympathetic, characters.

“The play is a lot to do with family,” she said. “Every family’s crazy in their own particular way. Everyone can relate if you have a crazy family.”

The Magrath sisters must work through some tough family history if they are going to move forward with their lives, Harper explained.

“It’s a lovely, poignant story with universal themes of family, grief and hope,” she said. “It’s so funny, in an almost gothic way. These girls were raised by their mother, whose suicide completely screwed them up.”

“They’re a little out of their depth. They’ve still never fully processed their mother’s death,” she added.

The sisters’ path to healing is sprinkled with vulnerability, honesty and humor.

“You are going to laugh and giggle,” Harper said. “You will laugh in spite of yourself. You’ll sit there and think, ‘Yep, that’s family for you.’”

Pulitzer Prize winning play “Crimes of the Heart” comes to Tent Theatre - Reynolds College Blog (2)

Tent performing at a “higher level”

Harper continues to be amazed and impressed with the level of professionalism Tent Theatre brings to its audiences.

“Tent has ‘upped its game’ since I was there,” Harper said. “It’s more professional. It’s connected with [Actors] Equity now, so we get a wider group of people applying from across the Midwest and even further.”

The performers, she said, are at a “higher level.”

“We had good actors, but we didn’t have that level of dancing and singing when I was in college performing in Tent,” she added.

Life-long friendships remain essence of Tent

Even more so, the Tent experience requires a level of cooperation among the student performers that creates life-long ties, Harper observed.

“Tent is a bonding experience,” she said. “The friends you make are the friends you’ll have forever—the people I worked with during Tent are still my friends.”

“With any group of people who take a project from beginning to end, it’s almost like being ‘war buddies’ but obviously not that aggressive,” Harper observed.

“The essence, the tradition of Tent gets passed on,” through similar experiences that everyone involved in the production shares, Harper said, from delivering lines over ambulance sirens to deftly dodging a bug trying to fly in your mouth.

“Actors are the ones in the lights, but it takes many other people to put on a play. Everybody pitches in.”

A Springfield tradition

Pulitzer Prize winning play “Crimes of the Heart” comes to Tent Theatre - Reynolds College Blog (3)

Harper is proud to be a supporter of the arts in the Springfield area and plans to attend all three Tent productions this year.

“I’m a booster,” she said. “Springfield is very blessed to have the museums, live performances and even an opera to go to. The arts reflect how we live, how we remember history.”

“We build generations of theatre goers here,” she added.

Audiences can be assured of an enjoyable, entertaining evening at “Crimes of the Heart,” Harper said.

“It’s a lovely play, a good story, and everyone likes to hear a good story,” she said. “It’s an audience pleaser. You know these people.”

Harper also encourages people to see “Crimes of the Heart” to simply enjoy the experience of Tent itself.

“If you want a nice evening under the Tent, something to smile at or cry at, then this is the play to see,” she said. “And if you’ve never been to a Tent production, this would be a good one to go to.”

“You get to be part of a Springfield tradition.”

Get Tent Tickets

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “Mystic Pizza” are also part of this year’s production lineup.

Photos by Kevin White/Missouri State University.

Pulitzer Prize winning play “Crimes of the Heart” comes to Tent Theatre - Reynolds College Blog (2024)

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