by Bianca Regalado
The Beauty Queen of Leenane takes the audience on a tense exploration of a toxic relationship between a mother and daughter. Under the direction of Christopher Johnson and with the opulent acting of the entire ensemble, this dark comedy written by playwright Martin McDonagh is a heavy play with tragic resolutions.
This is an indelible story about the toxic relationship between a mother, Mag (Cynthia Meier) and her daughter, Maureen (Holly Griffith). The play is set in Leenane, a village in Western Ireland. We begin our journey with Maureen who at age 40 still lives with her sick and elderly mother Mag. Maureen’s life has been stuck in a repetitive cycle for the last 20 years. Everyday she has the same routine of: caring for her mother in the morning and making sure she has her porridge, her tea, and complan (a powder nutrient/electrolyte you can mix with water or milk). Maureen hasn’t achieved anything that she has felt was worthwhile in her life, career, education, or most importantly, in love. She is resentful towards her mother for all of the chances she feels caring for her has cost her, and Mag in turn, is resentful towards her daughter for how both of their lives have stagnated.
Griffith as Maureen was stunning. Maureen goes through quite a dark and emotional journey throughout the play and forces herself to make life altering decisions, decisions that will not only affect her but her mother as well. Griffith was vulnerable and real, you could feel her emotional shifts. In the first act of the play you witness this happen when Maureen notices that her mother hadn’t listened to a word that she said when she exclaimed in the middle of Maureen’s monologue that, “there’s no sugar in this!” referring to the tea. And just as quickly as her mother interrupted, Griffith’s expression within a second turned from teasing and light laughter to a sudden death silence and sharp glare at her mother that made you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Meier as Mag really got under your skin and she was brilliant. Meier knows how to navigate the confusion and deep depression Mag has, and for the most part caused herself.
The entirety of the play has the audience holding their breath. Griffith and Meier work together wonderfully in creating a space that feels and shows how tense and uncomfortable they are together, and it’s all the time. You become exhausted from the hatred and toxicity this relationship has. The only breaks we get are from Ray (Hunter Hnat), neighbor to Maureen and Mag, who visits the ladies regularly. He is in his late 20s to early 30s, is a jokester, and brings humor and light back to the play. Just when things become too unbearable, Ray comes in and gives the audience and characters a break with his sarcastic and mood lifting comments. The jokes are quick and hilarious, Hnat executes his lines in a very natural and clean way.
There are times of hope in the play and that is when Pato (Ryan Parker Knox), older brother of Ray and Maureen’s potential love interest, enters the stage. Knox really makes you want to root for Pato. You really feel that his feelings for Maureen are real and that he is a simple man who wants to find love. Knox was heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Music played a large part in the play. The live band (Music director, composer/arranger Russel Ronnebaum, Aiden Kram [violin], Robert Marshall [cello], Janine Piek [violin]) played within scenes and transitions. The cello was most prominent during monologues and beginning of the scenes and the violin would screech during times of revelation and pivotal moments. The music was a great and a haunting character within the play.
The scenic work was different but reflected the naked and chilly feeling of the play. Designed by Amy Novelli, walls were not used on the set. Instead doorways and a window were hung from wiring, a kitchen sink, cabinet, fridge and stove placed upstage center, an old wooden kitchen table and three chairs center stage, an old fireplace stage right and Mags rocking chair and lamp stage left create a small kitchen.
If you are a sucker for suspense and dark humor then see this play. If you have a less than great relationship with your mother, watch with caution.
Editor’s Note: Due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, the Rogue’s production of Beauty Queen of Leenane was canceled before we could publish this review. We apologize for our delay and deeply appreciate the work of the cast and crew.