Beth Henley became famous because of a friend who submitted her script to Actors Theatre of Louisville for its “Great American Play” contest, the forerunner to the now much respected Festival of New American Plays. Henley’s script, Crimes of the Heart, had been rejected by several theaters, but Actors Theatre saw something others had missed and produced it in 1979. Its trajectory was startling: It had a limited run at the Manhattan Theatre Club, which led to the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Henley was the first woman to win the prize since 1957. After the tragic comedy about the three crisis-prone Magrath sisters in Hazelhurst, Miss. transferred to Broadway in 1981, it picked up the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New American Play, a Guggenheim Award and a Tony nomination. The tremendously successful production ran for 535 performances and inspired a popular 1986 film starring Sissy Spacek (nominated for an Academy Award), Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. The compassionate look at good country people whose lives have gone wrong is the next show aboard the Showboat Majestic. I suspect Henley’s dark sense of humor will appeal to contemporary audiences. The production runs through Aug. 23. $17.
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