There are No Lumps in the Rogue’s Darkly Funny Beauty Queen of Leenane

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. 

Holly Griffith as Maureen and Cynthia Meier as Mag. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith as Maureen and Cynthia Meier as Mag. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

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.

The Cripple of Inishmaan Showcases Biting Critique of Humanity with Dark Humor

by Holly Griffith

Dylan Cotter as Billy, Connor Griffin as Bartley and Rachel Franke as Helen. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Dylan Cotter as Billy, Connor Griffin as Bartley and Rachel Franke as Helen. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Arizona Repertory Theatre’s most recent production, Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, upholds a level of professionalism common at the University of Arizona. The production is seamless and consistent, true to the story, and well-acted. Directed by Hank Stratton, the play follows the orphaned Billy, who lives with his adoptive aunts on the island of Inishmaan off the West coast of Ireland. Walking with a “shuffle” and a disfigured arm, Billy yearns to escape the constant ridicule of his community and formulates a plan to leave the island. The play has all the signature elements of Irish drama–quick wit, mystery, dark humor, and colorful family dynamics.

The company is unshakably gelled. All the actors inhabit the same world, and there is a consistency of rhythm and intensity between scenes. Dylan Cotter’s performance as Billy is nuanced and heart-wrenching. We feel his pain, hope for his triumph, but see a darker side when he manipulates his friends and caretakers. Elana Richardson as Eileen, Billy’s aunt and caretaker, is also outstanding. She plays the role with a strong backbone and a sharp wit. Eileen is a pillar of the play, unshakable in her dedication to Billy but simmering over a flame of maternal worry. This is a difficult balance to strike, and Richardson does it masterfully. Other outstanding performances include Rachel Franke as the delightfully profane Helen and Connor McKinley Griffin as Bartley, her clownish brother. Franke has a particularly tough job. Helen is simultaneously confident in her sexuality and traumatized by it. We learn early that she has been groped and harassed frequently by older men. In typical Irish fashion, she copes with her experiences using humor, but with Franke’s performance, we sense an undercurrent of anger.

The whole cast frames up McDonagh’s sharp humor with surprising skill. The quick-witted sarcasm, the dark comedy, and the incessant needling are all there. I laughed aloud often. Still, I felt there was room in Stratton’s direction to dial up the almost inhuman absurdity of some of the personalities in McDonagh’s play. Part of the irony of The Cripple of Inishmaan is that most of the characters are uglier, more disabled, and more grotesque than Billy. They all have “crutches” of one kind or another, they all have internal disfigurements and moral injuries. The flaws of these characters are larger-than-life and should balance on the edge of difficult-to-watch. Pateen Mike’s jovial cruelty, Babby Bobby’s brutal temper, Doctor McSharry’s misogyny, Helen’s unabashed naughtiness, Aunt Kate and Aunt Eileen’s quaking nervousness should make Billy’s world unbearably claustrophobic. These characters are rough. They are cruel. They are damaged. I’d like to see this cast do the play with a blazing intensity. Each actor already gives their character the proper flavor, but I wish Stratton had encouraged the cast to turn up the volume. I think this approach would pull the connective tissues of the play even tighter, making the funny moments funnier and the dark moments darker.

Michael Schulz as BabbyBobby, Peter James Albert Martineau as JohnnyPateenMike and Dylan Cotter as Billy. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Michael Schulz as BabbyBobby, Peter James Albert Martineau as JohnnyPateenMike and Dylan Cotter as Billy. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Still, this cast does a solid job with a difficult play, and the production elements all communicate with each other to paint a believable picture of humble, mid-century life in rural Ireland. Kevin Black’s dialect coaching is excellent. Actors sound consistent yet still individual, and the cadence of the dialect is rough enough to give us the flavor of the remote Aran Islands without sacrificing our ability to understand every word. Joe C. Clug’s scenic design effectively shows the drab interior of the Aunties’ store, designed to be quite literally rough around the edges. Gaby Nava’s costumes were perfectly Irish with hearty fabrics and muted colors, plus a bright magenta dress that popped on the promiscuous Helen.

Fans of dark comedy, poetry, and Irish storytelling won’t want to miss it!

The Cripple of Inishmaan runs at Arizona Repertory Theatre through December 2nd. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30; Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1:30. You can buy tickets online at theatre.arizona.edu or by calling 621-1162.

 

Editor’s Note: Holly Griffith an adjunct instructor in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the U of A. While she had no input or involvement with the creative process for this production nor is a professor to any of the students involved in this production, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.