Humor, heartache and horror surround McDonagh’s Beauty Queen
“I can’t open the frickin’ door!”
And with that, we’re introduced to a few of the bleak, isolated lives in Leenane, a small town in western Ireland. Playwright Martin McDonagh claims to have been inspired to write by Irish soap operas, yet one senses weightier influences. And in this play, particularly, the omnipresent specter of James Joyce is most keenly felt.
As with The Cripple of Inishmaan, the McDonagh play produced last year by the Blue Room, the story focuses mainly on a single family. In this case, we are introduced to 40-something Maureen Folan. Seemingly, she has forgone carving out a life of her own to care for her perpetually deathbed-nearing mother, Mag. The latter initially strikes us as a conniving crone, constantly criticizing Maureen’s every interest. Yet Maureen casually throws back pointed rejoinders and remarks—she seemingly dishes back whatever is ladled to her.
Things get dramatic when neighbor Ray Dooley drops by with the latest news: His older, still single brother Pato is coming to visit from London; the family is throwing a big party for him. Maureen perceives this as possibly her last chance to escape her mother, her isolation and, ultimately, her self.
But it’s not as simple as that. These are complex individuals, not soap opera caricatures. No situation here is truly as it seems. And no single individual is wholly devil or angel, but rather shifting layers of both as the tale unfolds. The humor is an obvious element. But as things progress, heartache and ultimately even horror become inextricably entwined within these lives.
Opening night was a bit uneven. There were some choppy lighting cues, flubbed lines and one goofed entrance. Given another week, the show should be right on target.
It’s difficult to believe Joe Manente is the same actor who portrayed Einstein in Picasso at the Lapine Agile. This character is completely different. Ray Dooley is a kind of amiable nitwit who dresses like an MTV-generation American, in black cap and clothes, with a couple of chrome wallet chains looped at the hip. The age-old “entrusting a love letter to a twit” routine figures in with this character, the results of which are devastating (or are they?). Evan Allen does solid work as Ray’s London-based brother Pato. His movements are economical, and his Irish brogue is one of the show’s best.
As the elderly Mag Folan, Kathryn McReary is a natural. Her brogue is the absolute best here, in fact so thick that it’s occasionally difficult to decipher. Fortunately, McReary is a good enough actor that she physically coveys what her accent sometimes obfuscates. One complaint: During an integral moment, she didn’t manifest nearly as much pain as anyone else actually would under similar duress.
And as Maureen Folan, Mary Crowlie does good work as the wisecracking, put-upon daughter. Beneath a confident exterior, Crowlie neatly suggests Maureen’s self-doubt and fear and competently foreshadows the horrific climax of the play. Unfortunately, I will neither foreshadow nor hint at that climax. Suffice to say, nothing is what it seems. And that’s what reminds me of James Joyce, particularly his characters in Dubliners. Whether from impotence or indifference, circumstance or choice, all the characters in this play seem trapped. And how each deals with that fact creates the fine delineation of character within the story.