The Plays of Beth Henley

A Critical Study


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About the Book

Beth Henley’s twelve complete plays (three of which have been turned into films) have achieved worldwide production. At age 29, she produced her first full-length drama, Crimes of the Heart, which won a Pulitzer Prize and garnered three Academy Award nominations as a film. Her Mississippi upbringing and her penchant for the eccentricities of southern culture, however, have caused critics to categorize her writing as a kind of southern gothic folklore inspired by feminist ideology.
This book, the first critical study of Henley’s complete plays, attempts to dispel the common stereotypes that associate Henley’s work with regional drama and sociological treatises. It argues instead that Henley can best be perceived as a dramatist who delineates an existential despair manifested in various forms of what Freud calls the modern neurosis. The book maintains that Henley’s plays must be understood as universal statements about the angst of modern civilization, and Henley’s characters are assessed in light of Freud’s proposition that cultural restrictions create neurotic individuals. The introduction provides a brief account of Henley’s childhood and career. Early chapters summarize the theory of the modern angoisse espoused in Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, while later chapters relate this theory to thematic and stylistic elements of Henley’s most popular play, Crimes of the Heart, as well as Am I Blue, The Wake of Jamie Foster, The Miss Firecracker Contest, The Debutante Ball, The Lucky Spot, Abundance, Signature, Control Freaks, Revelers, L-Play, and Impossible Marriage.

About the Author(s)

Gene A. Plunka is Professor of English at the University of Memphis, where he teaches modern and contemporary drama. He lives in Bartlett, Tennessee.

Bibliographic Details

Gene A. Plunka
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 234
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2005
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2081-0
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8145-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

Introduction      3

1. A Career Overview      7

2. Henley and the Modern Angoisse      33

3. Am I Blue and The Wake of Jamey Foster      48

4. Crimes of the Heart      66

5. The Miss Firecracker Contest and The Debutante Ball      86

6. The Lucky Spot and Abundance      113

7. Signature and Control Freaks      135

8. Revelers, L-Play, and Impossible Marriage      158

9. Conclusion      189

Notes      193

Bibliography      213

Index      223

Book Reviews & Awards

“the first full length book on a significant contemporary American playwright…solid analysis…research…is thorough…valuable”—South Atlantic Review; “thorough research”—The Mississippi Quarterly.