The Lantern Theater Company’s production of THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE completes its presentation of Martin McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy, following 2007’s THE LONESOME WEST and 2011’s A SKULL IN CONNEMARA. Chronologically the first entry into the trilogy and McDonagh’s first major play, THE BEAUTY QUEEN is not as staunchly original as the playwright’s later works. The plot is archetypal, its developments well-telegraphed and its themes well-worn. What makes the play so good is McDonagh’s superbly created world: an evocatively formed, darkly comic place where violence is mundane and human interaction is cutting yet painfully true to life.
THE BEAUTY QUEEN focuses on the suffocating relationship between forty-year-old spinster Maureen (Megan Bellwoar) and her aging mother Mag (Mary Martello): two vividly created, flawed yet somehow sympathetic characters. When Maureen meets construction worker Pato (Charlie DelMarcelle), visiting his brother (Sean Lally) and family from London, her romance threatens to take her away from her needy mother, who does everything in her power to rob her daughter of her one chance of salvation.
As a native of the more-maligned neighboring island, I’m often exasperated by the incredible PR job Ireland has pulled off on world opinion. The popular image of the Irish is a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving people with a gift for language and a sorrowful history of oppression (“the yanks do love the Irish,” as Maureen remarks). Leaving aside any counterarguments, the Lantern production demonstrates the drawbacks to this stereotype.
The interaction between mother and daughter is vitriolic. (MAUREEN: “You’re oul and you’re stupid and you don’t know what you’re talking about, now shut up and eat your oul porridge”; MAUREEN: “Do you think I like being stuck up here with you? Eh? Like a dried up oul …” / MAG: “Whore!”). Kathryn MacMillan’s direction plays up the happy-go-lucky Irish attitude, especially in Bellwoar’s first act performance and Lally’s every appearance, robbing McDonagh’s script of some of its bite.
The result is solidly entertaining, but more hilariously comic than aggressively dark. Martello’s strong turn as the mother provides a sober counterpoint, but like DelMarcelle’s welcome appearance as Pato, the performance does not always gel with her fellow actors’. McDonagh is a British-born playwright (his parents are Irish and he was frequent visitor to the Leenane area in his youth). Giving his characters a well-observed Irish lilt may have made their cruelty more palatable, but it should not be permitted to overwhelm the play’s edge.
I laughed through much of THE BEAUTY QUEEN, and reveled in the banal wickedness represented in McDonagh’s work. But though well worth seeing and technically flawless (Dirk Durossette, set; Maggie Baker, costumes; Shon Causer, lights; and Daniel Perelstein, sound), the Lantern’s production falls short of its previous McDonagh offerings. January 10- February 10, 2013, lanterntheater.org.
Previously published on Stage Magazine.