The Beauty Queen of Leenane – In the Eye of the Beholder

One does not go see a Martin McDonagh play expecting cheer. His oeuvre is dramatic- bleak, and violent, often wrapped in seriously black humor. The playwright intimately knows how his characters live and what emotionally motivates them. His world is ‘other.’

Maureen Folan (Aisling O’Sullivan) and her mother Mag (Marie Mullen) live in the rough countryside of 1990s Ireland. Their lives are as spare and colorless as the house the two rancorously share. Mag is a vitriolic, hypochondriacal tyrant, ordering her 40 year-old daughter around like an inadequate servant,  provoking her with gestures like dumping a chamber pot in the sink every morning.

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Marie Mullen, Aisling O’Sullivan

Maureen verbally strikes back, withholding Mag’s tea, favorite biscuits, or radio. Occasionally dispensing punishment revealed in Act II. There’s no telling how the acrimony started, but reciprocal torture is unremitting. Sisters exist, but they’ve washed their hands of Mag for obvious reasons.

The axis of the story is what appears to be Maureen’s one chance at love and escape with childhood friend Pato Dooley (Marty Rea). When Pato visits from England where he works construction, the pair meet at a party for him and spend a night together. Maureen, who was a virgin, blooms like fast forward film. Mag naturally rails at her as a whore. Instilling hope (against hope), Pato returns to the UK promising to write. A letter is sent through his brother, Ray (Aaron Monaghan).

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Marty Rea, Aisling O’Sullivan

Plans go wildly amiss, reality is confused with delusion, shocking (but not entirely unanticipated) consequence ensues. McDonagh is skillful at manipulating an audience. When we’re aware he’s doing it, tension is nonetheless maintained; though we brace for the ax to fall, brutality palpably jolts.

Aisling O’Sullivan’s Maureen appears to brood rather than suffer. Her seduction of Pato is insufficiently desperate. While parenthetic joy and gloating feel immediate, the other side of her pendulum swing does not. Acquiescing to Mag comes too quickly and with too little bitterness. Nor is the end as powerful as it might be.

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Marie Mullen, Aisling O’Sullivan, Marty Rea

When The Beauty Queen of Leenane opened on Broadway in 1998. Marie Mullen, founder of Druid with Director Garry Hynes, played Maureen. In this production, she assumes the role of Maureen’s mother, Marie. Her Mag is aptly arrogant and venomous, if a bit less physically compelling.

Marty Rea’s Pato Dooley may be the best thing on stage. The actor is straight-from-the-hip credible. His recitation of the letter to Maureen is awkward, uneducated, sincere, and rather touching.

Aaron Monaghan does a yoeman like job.

Director Garry Hynes is a good hand at visual stage use and pacing. Unfortunately intelligibility is an issue here. Large parts of Aisling O’Sullivan’s speech as well as portions of Marie Mullen’s and Aaron Monaghan’s are incomprehensible. Clarity through accents is paramount. Perhaps her ear is too accustomed to judge our uninitiated reception.

Frances O’Connor’s Set utilizes stage height to best advantage with plenty of raining sky and cold, bleak interior. No idea what the antennae signified.

Doreen McKenna’s Costumes describe with distinction.

Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Aisling O’Sullivan, Marie Mullen

Druid Theatre Company presents
The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Garry Hynes
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street
Through February 5, 2017

About Alix Cohen (1285 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.