JWR Articles: Live Event - The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Director: Donna Belleville) - November 22, 2009

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

4.5 4.5

A high order of despair

With today’s aging population, Martin McDonagh’s notions of entrapment (physical, geographical, psychological) seem even more relevant now than at the 1996 première (Town Hall Theatre, Galway Ireland). Through his vivid characterization and far-reaching imagination, the gritty playwright turns elder care, employment and the grass-is-always-greener cure for despair upside down, shaking out every bit of selective memory and irony that anyone could possibly jam into 49 seemingly innocent pages of script.

As Lyndesfarne Theatre Project’s roots stretch out deeper and further into the community, it is fast earning the reputation as the social conscience of the Peninsula by tackling plays that take no prisoners on the emotional battlefields of human existence.

Casting herself as Maureen and engaging Donna Belleville to direct proved to be twin triumphs for artistic director Kelly Daniels. Like her character, she’s been “trapped” (thank goodness, or this company would never have survived its first season) in the endless, thankless, occasionally demeaning task of creating fine art out of thin air. Unlike her character who has just one master to serve (Jennifer Phipps is detestably delightful in her portrayal of the selfishly-domineering mother, Mag: “But how could you go with him? You do still have me to look after.”), artistic directors have to please funders, donors, patrons, sponsors and politicians. With the ensuing avalanche of paperwork, meetings and pleas for support, it’s not inconceivable that one’s love of art (or country in the case of the men in Maureen’s life who are forced to work like dogs for the English or seek their fortune in the “promised land” of America) could diminish with every compromise along their daunting road to survival.

With this deeply felt performance, Daniels most assuredly has broken the bonds of bureaucratic servitude and, with her exceptionally talented colleagues, laid her troubled soul bare while fighting off the many demons (real and imagined) that rule her persona’s miserable life. Mining anguish (her one night of bliss with Pato—Graeme Somerville is nothing short of superb as the voice of reason and understanding: “What harm a breakdown, sure? Lots of people do have breakdowns.”—collapses under its own joy in the morning), callousness (meting out revenge for her mother’s singular selfishness chills the soul even as it burns flesh) and total defeat from McDonagh’s decidedly unsettling vision releases Maureen from her torment and simultaneously confirms Daniels’ expertise, passion and perseverance (no, it’s not just like riding a bike: by the end of the run this Maureen may well be one for the ages) on both sides of the footlights.

Belleville has fashioned a production that makes the most of the skillful ensemble (Craig Pike rounds out the troupe playing Ray with an engaging mix of honesty, anger and malleability—seems no one can avoid obeying Mag’s commands) and Matt Flawn’s wizardry with light and set design. Perhaps to balance the agonies on stage, the between-scene jigs and reels at first come as welcome relief but collectively overshadow the unfolding drama even as the prescribed pieces lose some of their intended punch in comparison. Silence, too, is a powerful force.

Nonetheless, the ebb and flow has been masterfully conceived, calculated and rendered. In the quibble column comes the direction for Ray to become a petty thief, serving the goal of finding his purloined toy but confusing his overall motivation as the action winds up.

Like all fine playwrights, McDonagh asks more questions than he answers (Who was at the funeral? Why celebrate a birthday that never took place?). Those with a taste for distasteful issues presented in a thought provoking, utterly professional fashion won’t dare miss The Beauty Queen of Leenane. JWR

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Playwright - Martin McDonagh
Director - Donna Belleville
Set and Lighting Designer - Matt Flawn
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Downtown Alliance for the Performing Arts Dramatists Play Service, Inc. Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects
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