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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Interesting Production of Martin McDonagh's
The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Also see Richard's reviews of Dear Elizabeth and Abigail's Party


Beth Wilmurt, Rod Gnapp and Joy Carlin
Marin Theatre Company is presenting Martin McDonagh's Irish classic, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The black comedy is an alarming blend of frenzied comedy, grand melodrama, horrifying violence and the bleakest tragedy. I found this production remarkable, well-acted by all, and smoothly directed by Mark Jackson. The director has put a different spin on this play from the two productions I saw in England and New York (both starred the great Irish actress Marie Mullan).

The four actors on stage do an admirable job of embracing and embodying the language which exists in real life. The cast is mostly up to the demands of the script—from the forlornly absurdist lighter moments to the unalterable tragedy of its darker ones. Just when you think the playwright has shown the plot's full hand, it takes a twist that'll set the hair on the back of your neck on end.

Mark Jackson has toned down the psychological brutality, and the play becomes more universal and less Irish. Thanks to Joy Carlin as the mother and Beth Wilmurt as the daughter, there is still the fiercely comic mother-daughter warfare that projected Martin McDonagh into the first ranks of Irish playwrights in the '90s.

The play is set in 1989 in the small village of Leenane in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. It centers on the life of Maureen Folan (Beth Wilmurt), a 40-year-old virgin who is the sole caregiver to her 70-year-old mother Mag (Joy Carlin). Maureen has a history of mental illness and she is trapped in a small, bleak cottage in an overly dependent, extremely dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

In the course of the drama, the cottage is visited by brothers Ray (Joseph Salazar) and Pato Dooley (Rod Gnapp). Ray is an uncontrollable and immature young man while Pato is a middle-aged construction worker fed up with having to live and work in England. The glimmer of a romance sparks and then sizzles between Maureen and Pato with ultimately devastating results.

Joy Carlin is impeccable as Mag. She expertly infuriates the beleaguered daughter Maureen and cunningly plots against her in silence. Beth Wilmurt subtly conveys Maureen's paralyzing lack of self-assurance and her mother's frightening control over her existence. Rod Gnapp is perfect as the none-to-bright brother who visits Maureen. He provides the narrative's tender moment, portraying a gentle, understated and stout-hearted hero. As Pato's brother Ray, Joseph Salazar is a bit too tightly wound. He has such a thick Irish accent that many of his lines were incomprehensible at the performance I attended.

Nina Ball's set is remarkable. It is a sparely furnished cottage set without walls, floating in an emblematic inky-blue or grunge-yellow space. Fumiko Bielefeldt has pulled a perfect set of Irish-folk costumes for the four actors. Dialect coach Lynn Soffer should be commended for helping the actors achieve west county Irish accents.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs through June 16th at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. Coming up next is David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People opening on August 22nd and running through September 15th.


Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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