Beauty Queen of Leenane is Henley at its Finest
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Bo Wilson, is billed as a black comedy with a “blend…of melodrama, horror and bleak tragedy.” Most of the comedy is in the first act, and I was laughing out loud. The audience was lulled into a false sense of comfort. Act two comes out swinging. I felt as though I’d been beaten over the head with a hot fire poker. And I loved it.
Maureen is the bitter 40-year-old spinster daughter of Mag, a whining, calculating, and mischievous older woman who pours her bedpan in the kitchen sink to plague her daughter. When Maureen falls in love with an old chum, Pato, and finally has the glimmer of hope of a life away from her meddling mother, Mag plots to thwart the lovers at every turn. She has an ally in Pato’s dim-witted younger brother, Ray, whose laziness and quick-temper will ensure that Mag’s scheme will unfold.
The tension between the two women simmers. Maureen is fed up of having to cook and clean and take care of her mother. Mag complains the porridge is too lumpy, then too thin, and that Maureen has bought the wrong biscuits. Just as the audience starts to despise the mother, shocking back story is revealed. The twists and turns as the pressure reaches a boiling point made my heart race. The tension was palpable. I’m sure I’m not the only one who nearly jumped out of their chair a time or two.
Set in rural Ireland, the entire play takes place in the kitchen of a small cottage. From the old-fashioned wood stove to the framed portrait of John F. Kennedy, the set is exquisitely detailed. A carefully placed kitchen sign – “May you have half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you’re dead” – is a portent of things to come. The audience hears the near-constant rain in the background, and the crunch of the gravel leading to the house.
Directed by the Henley Street Theatre Company and performed at School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC), The Beauty Queen of Leenane was superbly acted by a small but mighty cast. All four performances were splendid. Mary Best Bova convincingly portrayed the conniving and pathetic Mag. Jill Bari Steinberg portrayed the bone-weary and desperate Maureen to perfection. One of the play’s most moving performances came in the form of a monologue delivered by Tony Foley portraying Pato as he professes his love for Maureen. And Alexander Sapp’s Ray is believably bumbling, impatient, and selfish.
Henley Street Theatre’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane is not to be missed. It is the company’s final production of the year, and Artistic Director James Rick’s last production with the company. And Henley Street Theatre will be joining forces with Richmond Shakespeare with the goal of a “stronger artistic presence” in Richmond and to bring “a brand of theatre that celebrates classical and contemporary works…that will ignite audiences’ imaginations. I urge the Richmond community to give Mr. Ricks a proper sendoff, and to cheer on the Henley Street Theatre in its new endeavor.
The play runs on weekends through June 15, 2013, you can get tickets here.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
“It’s so contemporary feeling, even though it has a medieval setting. This is very much a modern dysfunctional family.”January 23, 2015
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