Set in dreary Galway, western Ireland, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” is the first of Martin McDonagh’s trilogy of plays about his birthplace.
Since its first production in Ireland in 1996 it has toured extensively, played in the West End twice and on Broadway, where three of the four roles won Tonys for its cast as well as Best Director. So you know going in that this is something special.
This excellent production at Studio Stage feels as if you have stepped through a portal and been transported into a damp, cramped cottage in the backside of nowhere. The play is set in the Folan’s family parlor. The daughter, Maureen, is caretaker to her mother Mag and their relationship is not built on love. Mag is manipulative, sour and vindictive. Maureen miserable, resentful and mean, taking her meagre victories where she can. This is her mother’s house and Mag plans to live as long as possible so escape for Maureen seems sadly out of the question.
Angela Nicholas, Tim Hildebrand
The story truly begins when a neighbor’s son, Ray, drops round to invite them to a party. Maureen is out and Mag tries to dispose of the invitation knowing she couldn’t possibly attend given her illnesses, but Maureen finds out anyway. The night of the party Maureen meets up with a long lost love, Pato, a sweet house painter who lives in London. She brings him home and this infuriates Mag of course, especially when Pato stumbles into the kitchen in the morning. This all sets in motion a series of heartbreaking and gorgeously macabre events rather beautifully played out.
The character of Ray is the unwitting and a rather gormless antagonist, the blithe destroyer and gives some wonderful comic relief. In the end, his is the only blameless character, with his childlike acceptance of his own grim world. The rest are all to blame. All equally guilty of the mess they make, even sweet Pato.
Curtis Belz, Casey Kramer
It’s a stirring and brilliant play, full of clever Irish whit, chilly pathos and the kind of really deep self-deceit of which we are all capable from time to time. In a small, cramped world where nothing ever happens, where days turn on the space between menial tasks and bad food and there seems to be no end in sight or break in the never-ending rain, it’s hardly surprising that depths are sunk to and foulness hangs in the air, accompanied by the horrible stench of Mag’s much denied morning potty dump into their kitchen sink.
This is a very tricky play to get right. It’s dark and sad and all too real to be fiction. The characters are spiteful, wounded and barely alive in some ways. Yet the lyrical language and the riveting and often humorous sadness makes it compelling and strangely wonderful.
Only truly excellent actors could do this darkness well and these four are very, very fine indeed.
The mother and daughter circle each other like vultures picking at a carcass. The men are sweeter and far more affable, but the women are the stars. McDonagh writes women so bloody well. They glisten in their mutual loathing and we can only admire them for it. Everyone is totally believable, the set is perfection, real tea is made and porridge too…thankfully we are spared the stench of the pee, although it certainly looked real enough! As did everything in fact. So much of these magnificent words need their accompanying actions in this play that it is essential to really feel as if we are stuck in this cottage in the soggy countryside…I really truly felt as if I was.
This is not a play for the faint of heart. These are lives with real struggles and bitterness that deserve our attention and to some extent even our compassion.
Wonderfully written and superbly acted, I highly recommend spending an hour or two in Leenane with these truly unforgettable creatures.
Running from September 15 through October 21. Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm.
Studio Stage, 520 N. Western, Los Angeles, CA 90004
Casey Kramer, Angela Nicholas, Curtis Belz, Tim Hildebrand
Stage Manager - Erin Moore
Light & Sound Design - Greg Crafts
Sound Design/Photography - Thai Long Ly
Set Design - Angela Nicholas
Set Paint - Capricorn Eleven Productions
Costumes - Angela Nicholas
Publicity - Nora Feldman