There are two prizefighters in this ring. And they’ve been going round and round trading off the mantles of victor and victim for too many years. You have a sense that there is nothing left in their relationship but the fight.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the award-winning play by Martin McDonagh, challenges an audience to watch desperation and loneliness cause good people to hurt one another.
According to Wikipedia (and may I not go to English Professor hell for quoting Wikipedia), the play is “a blend of black comedy, melodrama, horror and bleak tragedy.”
Oh, it’s got all of that. What Wikipedia won’t tell you is that it’s fun to watch, or that you’ll find yourself wondering how far you, yourself, might be pushed before you explode.
The play takes place in Leenane, Connemara in Ireland in the 1990s. Maureen (Moira Sauer) is a 40-year-old spinster caring for her 70-year-old mother, Mag (Mary Sloan).
Maureen wants a life—any life will do—but her mother, in her fear of being left alone, will do anything to keep her daughter at home. It’s a care-taking nightmare for Maureen and Mag, who have argued so long that they’re not above taking a little pleasure in the pain they cause each other.
Maureen has a chance in this play for a life with a nice man, Pato (Anthony Trombetta), but Mag will do what she can to spoil it.
This isn’t the sheer unrelenting arguing of The Boys, but it isThe Glass Menagerie with the volume turned up. I liked it, but it is a difficult ride.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud funny moments, more than I expected – but it is the dark parts that are ultimately fascinating to think about, to talk about.
I found a lot of pleasure in this play watching the chemistry between Sauer and Sloan – it crackles electrically across the room at each other. A million things, not all of them verbalized, cross Sauer’s face as she’s thinking, trying to find her escape.
She has settled for her mother’s hijacking of her life, but she fights for any semblance of freedom. She’s tired, and there’s very little care left in the caregiving.
Sloan’s cackling biddy is at turns raucous and raw, scheming and delightfully willful. We laugh at her, and then we see her for the dark person she’s become in her fear.
Sloan embodies that 70-year-old bitter crank like a withered piece of willow. In the end, she is just horrific to watch.
Trombetta plays the man who gets caught in the middle. He has some great scenes with Sauer and Sloan, and I believed him as a man who truly liked Sauer. He’s casual, gentle, amusingly awkward, and genuinely surprised by the battlefield he’s walked into.
I know Trombetta as a comedian. He brings his comic timing to this role, but he also gives it a nice gravity. His monologue where Pato writes Maureen is beautifully staged and nicely delivered.
Pato’s teen brother, Ray (Kieran Poile), is so bored he’s turned his young life into melodrama. He’s given to long rants, and wanders the scenery with nothing to do.
I think Poile will turn into a fine actor, and he does a solid job at what might be his first major dramatic role. He races a bit fast and loud through his lines, but he also has a brilliant scene with Sloan that will nearly get you out of your seat to save him.
Director Clinton Walker has done a fine job with a difficult play, with a tangled knot of twists and turns.
Theatregoers are going to be pulled into this knot. They will try to wriggle their way out of it. Stephanie Lambert’s set design keeps you there, though, feeling as trapped as Maureen.
The preview night had some strange music cues; the radio would just pop on by itself. Some of the transitional music seemed a bit heavy-handed, and there’s at least one scene near the end in which I could not fathom what was going on.
Overall, I loved the acting – these are meaty, complex roles for the leads. The story we’re pulled into is shocking and surprising, with real implications about how we care for each other and ourselves, and the images you see won’t soon leave you.
Neither will the Irish accent you’ll be keepin’, you will.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs Wednesday through Saturday until December 11. Showtime is 8 p.m.