Harper College welcomes Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright to campus

It’s not every day that a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright comes to Harper College, but Beth Henley will be in the audience when the Harper Ensemble Theatre Company presents her award-winning play, “Crimes of the Heart.”

Directed by Professor of Theatre Kevin Long, the production of Henley’s 1979 dark comedy runs from March 8-17 in the Drama Lab Theatre, Building L, Room L109, on Harper’s campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine. “Crimes of the Heart” focuses on the three Magrath sisters — Meg, Babe and Lenny — who are brought together in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, because of their ailing grandfather. The three women discuss the problems they’ve faced and reckon with the consequences of their “crimes of the heart.”

Born and raised in Mississippi, Henley now lives in Los Angeles where she is the President’s Professor of Theatre Arts at Loyola Marymount University. The acclaimed writer will be in the audience for Harper’s opening night and will also participate in events on campus on March 8 and 9, including post-show audience talkbacks and meet-and-greet receptions, during which Henley will sign copies of her work (available via the HarperStore). Henley will also lead a playwrighting workshop and participate in a lunch with cast and crew on March 9.

Long said he’s excited about Henley’s visit, especially the chance for students to interact and learn from an artist of her stature.

“For me, my joy is that I can’t wait for these students to connect with a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright,” he said. “Just hearing them talk to her about the play in a really intelligent way will be amazing.”

Henley won the 1981 Pulitzer for Drama for her hit Broadway play, which was later made into a film starting Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and Diane Keaton (for which Henley wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay). She has penned more than a dozen other successful plays and written a handful of film scripts, including collaborating with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and her then-partner Stephen Tobolowsky on 1986’s “True Stories.”

Henley’s visit isn’t the first time Long has brought a celebrated writer to Harper. Last year, playwright Boo Killebrew took part in events related to the college’s production of her play “Lettie.” In 2014, he invited Tony-winning playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter Alfred Uhry to campus in conjunction with Harper productions of all three works in his “Atlanta Trilogy” (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “Parade” and “The Last Night of Ballyhoo”).

Long said he’s learned that it doesn’t ever hurt to ask, given the opportunities a visiting playwright can provide to audiences and Harper students. Now in his 16th year of teaching and directing at Harper, Long’s passion for live theater, and the educational opportunities Harper’s Theatre Arts program provides, is palpable.

“Look at the training available here. It’s conservatory training. It’s legit,” said Long, who also works as an educator and artist at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. “What we provide is literally a direct connection to the professional world.”

“Crimes of the Heart”will be presented at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, March 8-9, 15-16; 2 p.m. Sundays, March 10 and 17, at Harper College Drama Lab Theatre, Building L, Room L109, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine.

Tickets: $15 for Harper students (with ID), $20 for other students, Harper employees and seniors (with ID) and $25 for general admission. Call the Harper Box Office at (847) 925-6100 or visit

Talkback sessions and meet-and-greet receptions with playwright Beth Henley will be on March 8-9. Coffee with the Director and Dramaturgs at 1 p.m. March 10 and 17.

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