The Plays of Beth Henley: A Critical Study

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McFarland, Feb 10, 2005 - Performing Arts - 234 pages
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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.

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A Career Overview
Henley and the Modern Angoisse
Am I Blue and The Wake of Jamey Foster
Crimes of the Heart
The Miss Firecracker Contest and The Debutante Ball
The Lucky Spot and Abundance
Signature and Control Freaks
Revelers LPlay and Impossible Marriage

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About the author (2005)

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

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