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Thursday, August 22, 2013

review Beauty Queen of Leenane

Review Beauty Queen of Leenane at Shakespeare & Company  by Bob Goepfert

LENOX, Mass.  – Martin McDonagh is a contemporary Irish playwright who is the heir to other great Irish playwrights like John Synge, Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan who made tragic figures out of flawed common people.

His play, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” which is playing at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., through September 15 is dark, comic, and insightful.  But McDonagh takes it one step further by adding brutal consequences to the situation.  “Beauty Queen…” is a play that is painfully honest and disturbingly violent in its portrait of people held together through of fear of being alone.

“Beauty Queen” centers on the dysfunctional relationship between 40 year old Maureen and her mother Mag.  Maureen is almost an indentured servant to her slovenly 70-year old mother.  It’s made clear Maureen has given up her life to care for her bullying mother to the point she is still a virgin.

Mag knows she is dependent on Maureen and will go any length to keep her from having a life outside their small, impoverished home.  When Pato Dooley shows romantic interest in Maureen, Mag’s behavior becomes extreme and tensions between mother and daughter become dangerously high.

The production is excellent, especially during the dark second act when Maureen comes to realize how her mother has betrayed her.  When her resentment boils over the relationship becomes searing and the unleashed emotions become powerful.  Though the play’s fierce climax is almost painful in its fury, the true pain comes when at play’s end Aspenlieder makes clear the price she must play for her freedom.

Tina Packer offers a carefully crafted portrayal of a controlling woman which helps the audience to understand Maureen’s frustrations.  Packer’s passive-aggressive manipulations demonstrate her cunning control of Maureen and soon the audience comes to understand Maureen needs Mag as much as Mag needs Maureen.

Director Matthew Penn stages the first act as a simple story of a daughter unwillingly trapped by a needy mother.  There are sweet moments and enough humor to make the turns in act two as surprising as they are gruesome.

In supporting roles David Sedgwick plays Pato as a decent, awkward man who might rescue Maureen.   However, it is Edmund Donovan who brings the necessary lightness to the production that the plays with a funny and charming portray of Ray Dooley, Pato’s dimwitted brother.

My quarrel with the production is technical as Maureen’s costumes are too sophisticated and seem contrary to the woman who is described as dressing “strangely.”  And because the home is open and neat it fails to set the claustrophobic mood of the play to reflect the mind set of the characters.

“Beauty Queen of Leenane” is not a play for the faint of heart, but it is excellent theater for people who want to understand the humanity of love, even when it goes amuck.

“Beauty Queen of Leenane” in the Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass.   Performances Tuesday through Sunday until September 15.  Tickets $15-$50.  413- 637-3353,



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