The WWU theatre arts production of “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” written by Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh is labeled as a tragic comedy directed by Jessica McGlaughlin. However I felt that the production was below the standard that I hoped it would meet. My impression of the play was more comedic then a tragic story due to the hysterical content displayed in the WWU production on February 2, 2001 at the Old Main theatre. Beauty Queen of Leenane is the first play in McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy premiering in 1996 in Galway, Ireland and has been nominated for six Tony Awards coming away with four of them along with the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards for best play of 1988.
The set design by Dan Zimmerman takes place in the living room of a small cottage in rural Ireland where Maurine, a middle aged woman played by Lisa Hopp who seemingly has no choice but to take care of her hypochondriac mother, Mag played by Lisa Hoyt. The room has no accessories besides a few pictures a television and radio. You can imagine the burning hostility and feuds rising in the presence of the small shack they live in especially with both women in a crooked manipulative state of mind. However the two got along better then I hoped they would and the communication between them went on as though they were joking around. The only other characters in the play are Maurine’s love interest Pato Dooley, played by Zayce Kruse and the comic relief of the play his younger brother Ray Dooley, played by Aaron Tobiason who played his role as the comedian pictured in the book.
Lisa Hoyt’s portrayal of a complaining mother was the most amusing character in the play due to her annoying high-pitched voice comparable to nails on a chalkboard as she begins to sound like a broken record by harassing her daughter and asking for complan (a powdered drink mix, similar to Metmucil) from anyone in her presence. Even more amusing was the portrayal of Mag’s costume designed by Katina Button displaying Mag in bright pink loafers and Ray Dooley in something similar to an Old Navy performance fleece. Although Hopp’s character isn’t particularly appealing either mentally or physically due to her make-up by Avi Liebowitz her acting makes up for it, and Mag becomes the only likeable character as you can sense her stubborn attitude vanish at one point when she painfully whimpers to Maureen, “But who’ll look after me?”
After reading the book the question still remains who the true nut case really is. However in the play nothing is left to the imagination, as the true manipulator becomes obvious right from the beginning. Thus originality from the best acted scene is lost by the portrayal and almost evil like expression in Hoyt’s eyes after her mother dies as she sits in her chair with an expression that could cut glass but should have been able to pierce an armored suit. The lighting done by Angela Tronvig slowly making her face disappear is still an awesome spectacle as Hoyt looks straight into the crowd dazed in her own sick little world that is too afraid to come out and deal with the reality that she is the one that is now all alone.
The symbols used in the production set up by prop designer Tony Bonnici are not used correctly as a catalyst to Maurine’s rage as you begin to wonder if Maurine really is angry at Mag. Unfortunately Maurine’s character does not prove that she is in lust for Pato as she did in the book. Evidence of this is the scene where she is angry at Pato for telling her to put her clothes on which should have been more intense instead of comical since Maureen is to nice to Pato after he makes that comment thus throwing off the manipulative attitude she displayed in the book. After reading the play for the first time I wanted to continue and read more of author Martin McDonagh’s work, however if I had not read the book and just watched the play I wouldn’t want to watch any more of his work.
Beauty Queen of Lenane shows again on Feb 8-10 at the WWU Old Main theatre. All shows start at 7:30 and tickets are sold at the PAC for $4.00.