note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Chuck Galle
You know how sometimes you just let your imagination romp and know how good it would feel to hurt another person seriously? Like just squeeze the webbing between someone]s thumb and forefinger with your own thumb and forefinger until the eyes pop in bloodshot contorted pain and the screech is as soul satisfying as Coltrane splitting a reed? Helen Brock leads you through that experience with such expertise it makes you wonder where she studied, in the Generic Theatre production of Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane. And by the time she does you are cheering her on although your own conscience is shrieking in horror at what it sees you thinking. That is because the play is so constructed by the author and interpreted by the cast that you are likely to open yourself to your worst thoughts willingly before you admit that that's what you have done. I wanted to hug her and kiss her when Maureen Folan, played by Helen, was pushed once more to the edge by her wheedling, manipulating, usey mother, Mag, played by Peggi McCarthy. It is hard to believe that these two actors are in real life such decent, warm, loving creatures as they are. For this performance will test your resolve of placidity and good will right down to the murderous edge. Helen clues you subtly several times in the first scenes that beneath her mild brittleness there lies a little evil, but never quite lets you believe the monstrosities that develop. I'm not sure whether McDonagh writes about Ireland or about the condition of humanity, certainly he knows more about both than I do. This play is his first of a trio called the Connemara Cycle, although it is presented at Players Ring as the third; following productions of A Skull in Connemora and The Lonesome West at another venue. All three lift the scab off the sore of violence that lives in all of us despite protestations to the contrary by some. And all three do while forcing your identification by making you laugh at many of your other foibles; a little selfishness here, a little lust there, a healthy dose of intolerance, a little covert vengeance. Chuckle, chuckle. And then it's "Oops, my Gawd. Now, that's a bit too far!!" But it may be just what you were waiting for.
Cary Wendell has pulled from Helen Brock the best work I have seen her do in two years of working with her. So naive, so sympathetic, so damnably real I just thanked Something she was only out on stage and not in my kitchen where I'd have to really deal with her. Just that sort of too much. Peggi McCarthy delivers a marvelous portrait of a lonely, meddlesome, wary old lady. I would have aged her some, rather than relying on her hair to carry that sense of her. Her legs are (honest, Peggi) just too young and smooth for a 70 year old, and her lower neck and shoulders need some lining up. But her cranky gait, and rheumatoid reach are just right on the mark. These two powerful actors are ably complimented by Patrick Ganz as Ray Dooley, whose brash Irish jaunt reeks of time in the Emerald Isle - which may not even be the case; and John Sullivan as Pato Dooley, the handsome, nay dashing, nay both, prospective lover of Maureen. Patoıs tender letter to her from England affords the actor a opportunity to display some range and John takes full advantage of that time to do so.
The set is professionally minimal, everything that's needed, nothing that's not. Lights and sound are handled well by Betsy Kimball and Chris Daly. The scene changes need to be speeded up. I understand that there were some late problems with stage management and would simply offer this: scenes changes should be noticeable by their speed. Don't walk. Hustle. Donıt reset the chairs the other person set. Rehearse the changes.
Don't miss this show!
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is at Playerıs Ring in Portsmouth NH through October 7th, at 8:00 PM Friday or Saturday or 7:00 PM Sunday. Call them at 603-436-8123 for reservations. See www.playersring.org for more info.