For those of you who are guilty of undue optimism about yourself, life, and the human race, I have just the remedy. Sunday afternoon I attended a preview of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane directed by Mark Jackson at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. This is McDonagh’s first play and is the first work of a west county, Irish trilogy, which takes place mid-1990s in a small town in Connemara, County Galway. Sounds charming? No, it isn’t.
If you sucked all the air and sweetness out of the Ireland I know, and then populated it with unstable, spiteful, adult mutants, you would get something akin to McDonagh’s vision. The play reminds me of a neglected Can-O-Worms. Yes, I am culpable of worm abuse. If the food rots and you let the castings pile up, you get an anaerobic environment that can only support scrawny, pathetic, sallow wormies who have all but lost their wiggle. Get the picture?
A mother and daughter, Mag and Maureen Folan, co-exist in a wasteland of hostility and resentment. Maureen, a 40-year old virgin, seethes under the domineering and sly control of her mother whom she is care-taking. Equally helpless, each vie for power over the other in skirmishes of verbal warfare. Maureen tells her mother, “I dream of anything other than this.”
Then it gets better. Ray Dooley, a neighborhood young man, delivers an invitation to a social event. Through him we learn that the whole town is a stagnant cesspool of grudges, a rootless society fallen in on itself. Townspeople are known for the acts of savagery they have committed. The priest, whose name no one can quite remember, once punched a boy in the head for no particular reason; and another man, just for spite, cut off the ears of his brother’s dog and was happy to show them to anyone who was interested.
Maureen–distorted, pernicious Cinderella that she is–attends the ball and develops a love interest in Pato Dooley, the one kind and sympathetic character of the play. She longs for sex, love, and to escape her circumstances and malevolent mother. But, spoiler, this a McDonagh fairy tale, not Walt Disney. Welcome to a world of desperation, violence, and delusion.
The central message of this play seems to be that misery loves company, and given the right conditions, we are all capable of making life a living hell for each other, even as we seek love and appreciation. Did I say McDonagh is a great writer? Yes, I believe he is. He is a master of the classical form of storytelling, has a damn strong voice, compelling characters, and a nasty dark humor. Did I laugh? Very little. But much of the audience did, I suppose as gasping pleas for release from his stranglehold of deranged, brilliant artistry.
I give the production an A-. Acting was excellent. One repeated feedback audience members gave during the Q&A afterwards was that they had problems understanding the dialect. One person even said that the first ten minutes was a throw-away. If you think you might have this problem, I encourage you to ask for an audio amplifier at the Box Office before the show. Good luck and may the wind be at your back.
Cast of Characters:
Mag Folan – Joy Carlin
Maureen Folan – Beth Wilmurt
Ray Dooley – Joseph Salazar
Pato Dooley – Rod Gnapp
For more information, see http://marintheatre.org/