Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Beauty Queen of Leenane"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"The Beauty Queen of Leenane"

by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Eric Engel

Set Design by Susan Zeeman Rogers
Lighting Design by Eric Levenson
Costume Design by Kristin Loeffler
Sound Design by Rick Brenner
Special Make-up Design by Seth Bodie
Rain Design by Mike Brown
Dialect Coach Genevieve Maher
Choreographer Kristin McKinney
Properties/Assistant Stage Manager
Production Stage Manager Maureen Lane
Stage Manager Catherine McLaughlin

Mag Folan..........................................Mary Klug
Maureen Folan..............................Susanne Nitter
Ray Dooley.....................................Matthew Ellis
Pato Dooley.............................Derry Woodhouse
Radio Announcer..............................Bill Meleady

Ireland's newest expatriate playwright Martin McDonagh has been the talk of Galway, London, New York and Wellfleet Mass., and now Eric Engel and the Sugan Theatre Company have brought his "Beauty Queen of Leenane" to Boston's Center for The Arts. The cramped pressure-cooker of mountain-town backbiting in McDonagh's tight little play explicates the reasons why Oscar Wilde and Sam Beckett never went back. If you take from Ireland Synge's poetry, Wilde's brittle wit and Beckett's abstraction, what's left in McDonagh is blazingly unforgiving passion, petty remembered spites and bitter brogues. But Engel and Sugan and this Boston cast eloquently prove that it is possible to make a beautiful production from an ugly play.

The brogues are thickest earliest here, with 40-year-old Maureen Folan (Susanne Nitter) battling her sullen mom (Mary Klug) over such momentous things as cold tea or lumps in the porridge, while hints of bigger battles flit by. Are the sores on mother Mag's hand from her shakey spilling of her tea-water? Did mom indeed have to drag her daughter home from a London looney bin? The misshapen mud walls of Susan Zeeman Rogers' bleak set, the crooked door opening on Mike Brown's omnipresent bright-blue pouring rain, the glow of the peat-fired stove --- all of this speaks of an in-grown physical and spiritual poverty from which the only escape is to flee to outcast lives in London, or in Boston.

It's the Dooley brothers, young Ray (Matthew Ellis) and tall Pato (Derry Woodhouse) who interrupt the kitchen wars. Ray is the unwilling messenger, bringing letters and party-invitations from a cautiously randy older brother trying not to remember Leenane (pronounced here "LeNAN"; the Irish never could spell at all, at all!) in London or Boston. Back on a visit Pato spends a night with Maureen, but trusting delivery of his love-letters to his daft little brother is sure to blast everybody's hopes.

The play deals with incredible cruelties --- physical and spiritual --- spawned by the narrowness of people where, in the most-quoted line of the play, "you can't kick a cow without people remembering it ten years later" and with psychological ambiguities. Is Mary Klug's selfish slattern fighting back in the only ways she knows? Is Suzanne Nitter's flamboyantly bitter Maureen borderline delusional? Is all the rest of little Leenane as selfishly small-minded as Matthew Ellis's Ray? Is Derry Woodhouse's Pato a real catch, or a last hope? And could all this really end in murder?

Eric Engel has balanced the thickets of dialect and flurries of action with laconic duels of slow silence and seething resentment. This spare, intensely focus production seems much shorter than it is, leaving unanswered questions to ponder and discuss. And, if you think Martin McDonagh's new view of the Irish breaks new ground, you can compare it to Eugene O'Neill view in "Long Day's Journey into Night" played right next door by Boston's Delvena Theatre Company.
Pay your money; make your choice.


"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (till 18 November)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON

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