★★★★★ - Irresistible
To my knowledge, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” by Martin McDonagh, which opened on Broadway in 1998, has never been produced locally. It stands out historically because it was the first time a woman ever won a Tony Award for direction of a play. If it has been presented here and I missed it, shame on me. But, the current production by A Public Fit makes it worth the wait.
As directed by Ann-Marie Pereth, it’s a dramatic look at the struggle between mother and daughter; a black comedy about deceit and stolen life; a poignant piece about love and hate. Pereth found and nurtured all three with the most delicate of touches, guiding a rather stunning production.
Joan Mullaney, as Mag Folan, and Mindy Woodhead, as her daughter, Maureen Folan, chew the scenery in all the good ways it can happen. These two know how to command, and yet share the stage. Mullaney is coy, sly, impish, and deceitful as she alters the physical movements of Mag. Her timing is uncanny, and a sparkle lights her eyes when she’s looking for a way to snatch a letter meant for Maureen.
For her part, Woodhead gives us all the right reactions in all the right places at all the right times. Hatred and cruelty are easy to project, but when it needs to be tinged with love that one wishes to deny it becomes a tough row to hoe. It’s not always within the words Woodhead delivers, but with the way she presents herself; an expression, or movement—sometimes slight but always there.
The titular Maureen Folan, at age 40, finally has a suitor in Pato Dooley. Darren Weller brings such wonderful humanity to the role. Pato is both forward and shy and awkward at the same time. That Weller is able to combine yet separate and smoothly define the two from moment to moment is nothing short of amazing.
Mike Rasmussen rounds out the cast as Ray Dooley. Rasmussen brings the needed vitality to the role, the brashness of youth pours from him, yet he’s able to pull back when called for in compassionate moments. His dialect slips every once in a while, but not often enough, nor blatant enough to distract.
From “When the Hollow is Home,” the original music composed by Rasmussen, with lyrics by Joseph Kucan, down to the gloppy porridge, the production shines. The set defines rural Ireland, a home built of rocks from the fields, and the ancient wood-fired stove tucked into what was a kitchen fireplace adds a marvelous touch of authenticity. A functioning sink adds to the reality. The only thing that feels out of place is a Rubbermaid waste basket with a white trash liner—not that it’s out of period for the script; it’s not. It just strikes an odd visual chord in the otherwise centuries-old, and frugal, household.
The play is funny, even as it capitulates to darkness, though some may find it hard to laugh when it takes its final plunge. One of the best lines is when Maureen describes the fire poker as having “sentimental value.”
This is life and relationships in full embodiment: disgusting yet pleasing, ugly yet beautiful; hateful yet loving.
What: The Beauty Queen of Lenane
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays through March 5
2 p.m. Saturday March 4
Where: The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $20 - $25 (www.apublicfit.org)
Producer: A Public Fit; Artistic Director: Ann Marie Pereth; Producing Director: Joseph D. Kucan; Director: Ann Marie Pereth; Set Design: Eric A. Koger; Lighting Design: Elizabeth Kline; Sound Design: Tim Sage; Costume Design: Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova; Stage Manager: Brandi Blackman
Pictured: Mindy Woodhead and Joan Mullaney, photo by Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova