Thru 9/15–The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Review)
Shakespeare & Co
70 Kemble St, Lenox
The Beauty Queen of Leenane arrived with lots and lots of fanfare –and a full house–at Shakespeare & Co. this weekend. And why shouldn’t it? It stars two of the best and most prominent actresses of the Berkshires (if not the Northeast), one Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer. To make your choice of theater even more difficult, a few hundred feet away, Olympia Dukakis is gracing the stage in Mother Courage. That, folks, is a lot of talent on one plot of grass. Both plays will swagger your intellect: Mother Courage is a look inside German consciousness; The Beauty Queen of Leenane, on the other hand, is a dark and tragic comedy that takes place in Leenane, Connemara, Ireland. This setting calls for Irish brogues, heavy at times, but not overdone.
There’s much more to this story than meets the eye, this story where Fargo meets Misery. Leenane was introduced in 1996, and won four Tony awards. Here’s why:
As the lights raise you find yourself staring at a simple kitchen. It is drab and dark, old and barely functioning. Filthy, in a word. If you were a guest, you’d never sit for a cup of tea, and you’d shower when you got home. You are quickly introduced to our two main characters, Maureen Folan (Elisabeth Aspenlieder) and her mother, Mag (Tina Packer). [On the way home, you will realize that the kitchen is the mind of Maureen and Mag. I am not doing a plot giveaway, but as you watch this play, think of the kitchen as an abyss of psychosis. Listen to every word, even what comes on the radio]
We see immediately the train wreck that is coming. Mag is demanding and abusive, a crusty old crustacean that sits in the rocker and backs her daughter down a dark corridor of verbal abuse and manipulation. She is a crafty old hag, a nasty manipulator.
Maureen, on the other hand, is lovely and lonely, an abuse victim, a victim of her own mind, of her own mother; she has become an animal beaten for twenty years. The kitchen door is there, but she never leaves for good. And when she does, she returns. The tension mounts with abuse and Maureen becomes a coiled snake ready to strike.
Then the doorbell rings.
Maureen the Beauty Queen and forty year old virgin is awakened by the handsome suitor she allows to enter, even at the expense of meeting mother.
Mother doesn’t like suitors.
The trains get closer as the tension, abuse and psychosis looms, but still, like a voyeur, you can’t pull your eyes away. There’s tragedy coming, and you want to absorb it all.
This is dark comedy. There’s lots of humor here, dark humor, so expect yourself to be clutching your chair in angst and suspense and laughing while you do. Aspenlieder and Packer deliver over the top performances, delivering magnificent suspense, magnificent goosebumps. Indeed, a few scenes here were so uncomfortable you will be squirming in your chair. But that’s how good the direction, production and acting is: You think it’s real, taking a deep sigh of relief when the lights go on and you realize it was really just great theater. You are rescued from your nightmare, the nightmare of Maureen and Mag, the nightmare they themselves were never able to be rescued from.
As you join the psychosis, always remember: The apple doesn’t fall far in Leenane.
Richard DiMaggio, didyouweekend.com
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Matthew Penn
Featuring Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer with Edmund Donovan and David Sedgwick