Los Angeles Theater Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE (The Production Company)

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by Tony Frankel on January 18, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

BLACK COMEDY AND KITCHEN SINK DRAMA: AN IRISH STEW

While the horror and suspense merely simmer in The Beauty Queen of Leenane – Martin McDonagh’s 1996 black comedy – the dark humor, bleakness, and romance positively boil over, making The Production Company’s revival a recommended trip.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh – directed by August Viverito – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony FrankelFor 20 years, 40 year-old spinster Maureen (Ferrell Marshall) has been tending to her devious, self-centered mother Mag (Judy Nazemetz), who has nothing better to do than toss her urine down the kitchen sink, wait for the news on the telly and complain about the lumps in her Complan (a powdered energy drink). It would seem logical that Maureen abandon Mag, as her sisters did long ago, but her history of mental illness and her addiction to dysfunction keeps her entombed in a dreary kitchen in a drab town in County Galway, Ireland.

When a local young doofus named Ray Dooley (Rob Herring) appears with an invitation to a sendoff party for his uncle, it is made all too clear that Maureen really has nowhere to escape, as Ray embodies the monotony of small town life: he gossips about the town priest and prattles about buying a used car even though he cannot drive. Maureen attends the party and returns with Ray’s brother Pato (Alex Egan), who is living in England for the sake of employment as a bricklayer. This new romance instigates a bittersweet possibility for Maureen to escape, but both brothers end up becoming pawns in the dueling games of an implacable mother and her unstable daughter, a familial relationship that makes What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? seem tame by comparison.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh – directed by August Viverito – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony FrankelMcDonagh’s clever play, rife with an invented Irish patois that he has used in subsequent scripts, truly comes alive in the performance of Ms. Nazemetz, who evokes belly laughs from the audience even as we cringe at her manipulative, controlling behavior. Nazemetz finds a childlike delight with her Machiavellian cat-and-mouse provocations while just as capably expressing fear of the repercussions from her taunting. Hers is a multi-layered, fascinating, and pitch-perfect performance that will be remembered as one of the best of the year.

Mr. Egan may not be the physical manifestation of a muscled construction worker, but his combination of shyness, vulnerability, and salt-of-the-earth determination is so endearing and attractive that we are chomping at the bit to see if Maureen can flee from her frustrating situation. Egan’s monologue in the second act is a highlight of the show; along with Nazemetz, his performance is reason enough to dash over to the Lex Theater.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh – directed by August Viverito – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony FrankelMs. Marshall’s poignant moments and world-weary, sullen glares bring the embittered Maureen to life; less successful is the overwhelming dullness of routine and resentful anger that makes Maureen a threatening time bomb. The part of Ray is a scene-stealing possibility (Tom Murphy won a Tony for his portrayal in 1998), but Mr. Herring, although he is the perfect physical incarnation of the role, is challenged when it comes to bringing mind-numbing boredom to life, as he relies on broad gestures and yelling to define Ray’s exasperation and frustration; by playing his character’s profound ennui as anger, the actor leaves himself nowhere to go.

Director August Viverito is highly successful in creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia on a set of his own design (and no doubt elicited those stellar performances by Egan and Nazemetz), but he needs to go further in establishing the inner life and motivation for Marshall and Herring, both of whom could have benefited from better relationship work with both their space and the many important props (a poker, biscuits, an unopened letter, etc.).

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh – directed by August Viverito – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony FrankelMcDonagh’s shocking and very funny play is a revelation in storytelling: very simple on the surface and seemingly static, it actually makes an inarguable statement about the dangers of boredom and the drama which can emanate from tedium. A bucolic, simple setting is the perfect location to point out that things are not as simple as they seem.  The laughs were abundant in this revival, but without the nuances that would have created an underlying tension, this enjoyable evening simply ran out of gasps.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane
at the Lex Theater in Hollywood
scheduled to end on February 18
for tickets, visit http://www.TheProdCo.com

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