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A play that proves there's no explaining awards

Crimes of the Heart. Comedy by Beth Henley. Directed by Melvin Bernhardt. ''Crimes of the Heart'' made its local debut last season Off Broadway, went on to win the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and was chosen by the New York Drama Critics' Circle as best American play of the season. Now it has moved to Broadway and the Plymouth Theater to demonstrate once more that there is sometimes no accounting for awards. Mississippi's young Beth Henley has written a perversely antic stage piece that is part eccentric characterization, part Southern fried Gothic comedy, part soap opera, and part patchwork plotting.

Occurring ''five years after Hurricane Camille,'' Miss Henley's bizarre tale centers around three sisters who grew up in the shadow of their mother's suicide. Lenny MaGrath (Lizbeth Mackay), the eldest, is forlornly observing her 30th birthday, having discouraged her only beau because of her inability to bear children. Prodigal sister Meg (Mary Beth Hurt) has returned home from Hollywood, where she went to be a chanteuse and wound up clerking for a dog-food company. Babe (Mia Dillon), the youngest, is a mindless adult delinquent. She is out on bail after shooting and wounding her bullying big shot of a husband.

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The three sisters of Hazelhurst, Miss., face their predicaments as a mutual support team determined to bring life to terms. They have been drawn with good-natured sympathy and are acted with unsentimental gusto under Melvin Bernhardt's direction. Miss Hurt has a particular lark with the flamboyant but pragmatic Meg. Also making their way in and out of John Lee Beatty's cheerful kitchen setting are Raymond Baker as Meg's ex-boyfriend, Peter MacNicol as a beguiling lawyer who takes Babe's case partly to pay off old scores, and Sharon Ullrick as an officious relative. Patricia McGourty designed the 1970s costumes and the lighting is by Dennis Parichy.

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