Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Around the World in 80 Days

Charlie DelMarcelle, Megan Bellwoar
and Mary Martello

Photo by Mark Garvin
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Martin McDonagh's hilarious, heartbreaking and horrifying play, is a study of a mother and daughter who have spent decades in a bleak, tiny Irish cottage battling for control over each other, but letting their protective instincts curdle into mutual contempt. Director Kathryn MacMillan's absorbing production for the Lantern Theater gets the mixture of suspense, melodrama and black comedy just right. And it's anchored by superb performances by Megan Bellwoar and Mary Martello.

Maureen Folan (Bellwoar) is forty years old and worn down by life. She's spent the last twenty years raising chickens and taking care of her elderly mother Mag (Martello), whose foul attitude and foul bathroom habits have already driven away Maureen's two sisters. Mag has kept Maureen subservient and isolated, and Maureen is resigned to a lifetime of putting up with her mother's whining demands and insults. But she gives just as good as she gets; when Mag complains about the food she's been served, Maureen snaps "Would you like it better over your head?"

Maureen has sacrificed everything for Mag, even a love life; while she jokes about the joy she'll have when Mag is finally dead, in truth Maureen sees no way out. So when Maureen finally catches the eye of a man, construction worker Pato (Charlie DelMarcelle in a lovely, sweet performance), Mag, fearing she'll be left out in the cold (literally), does everything she can to end the romance. Yet, while Maureen may be unworldly when it comes to love, she is not nearly as innocent as she seems.

Martello plays Mag with a furrowed brow, never smiling once. She's constantly suspicious and defensive, reciting a litany of complaints and excuses ("me bad back ... me bad hand ... me urine infection") and seems panicked when she realizes that the old excuses may not work anymore. Bellwoar seems appropriately weary at first, but when she contemplates a life without her mother, her eyes sparkle and her smile beams. And she really blossoms in her scenes with DelMarcelle, her gestures becoming less rigid and her warmth filling the stage. But when events take a dark turn in act two, she's up to every chilling demand of McDonagh's script. Sean Lally rounds out the cast with a jittery turn as Pato's dim-witted, short-tempered brother.

Dirk Durosette's sparse cottage set design gives us a room whose lack of embellishment (save for a few knickknacks) says more about Mag and Maureen than any grand flourishes ever could. Maggie Baker's costumes are thickly layered, all the better to fight off the cold Galway autumn.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is probably McDonagh's most accessible and least violent major play—although considering that he also wrote the blood-drenched The Lieutenant of Inishmore and A Skull in Connemara, that's not saying much. There are a lot of jolts in the second act of Beauty Queen, but McDonagh uses surprise to show how desperate Maureen and Mag have made each other. And it all works smashingly. You won't soon forget these ladies.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs through February 10, 2013, and is presented by Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $30 to $38, with discounts available for students and seniors, and may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 215-829-0395, or online at

Bill Van Horn, John Zak, Sarah Gliko, Damon Bonetti and Anthony Lawton
Photo by Mark Garvin
The Independence Studio on the third floor of the Walnut Street Theatre holds only a few dozen seats and has limited space for its actors to move around in. Yet in their new production of Around the World in 80 Days, the Walnut has done the impossible: they've actually fit an elephant into the Independence Studio.

OK, maybe it wasn't really an elephant. Maybe, instead of Phileas Fogg and his entourage riding across India on an elephant's back, it might have been three actors on a wooden platform being dragged across the floor while one of them held some rubber tubing that was supposed to suggest an elephant's trunk. But director Bill Van Horn and his inventive crew do such a good job conjuring up trains, steamships, Indian pagodas and Chinese opium dens for Fogg to pass through that they'll probably persuade you their patched-together pachyderm is real.

Mark Brown's stage adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days stays pretty close to the spirit of Jules Verne's famous globetrotting adventure; in fact, whole passages are taken nearly verbatim from Verne's novel, and only a few minor episodes are skipped. That's a good thing, because Verne was a great storyteller (despite creating paper-thin characters), and 80 Days is a spree that's probably as enjoyable now as when it captured the world's fancy in 1873. Brown's script moves quickly and adds some gentle comedy without going too caught up in its own cuteness. It all suggests the sweep and excitement of Verne's tale surprisingly well. (Verne was, alas, a man of his era, and Brown's script takes on Verne's worst excess—his casual Victorian era bigotry aimed at the Sioux, Hindus, and others he considered "savages"—and manages to skewer it nicely.)

Andrew Thompson's set consists of a stately-looking wooden wall filled with panels that spin and slide to reveal sea captains, train conductors, and dozens of other characters, all played by a versatile three-member ensemble (John Zak, Sarah Gliko, and director Van Horn himself). The actors change characters in a flash before our eyes by switching hats and flipping from one comically exaggerated accent to another. (If you saw The 39 Steps at the Walnut a few years ago, you know the style of comedy they're shooting for.)

As Fogg, the reticent, mild-mannered English gentleman who decides to take his world-spanning journey to win a wager, Anthony Lawton is a calm, subdued contrast to the shenanigans whirling around him. Damon Bonetti has a lot of fun as Passepartout, Fogg's outrageous (and often outraged) servant.

Mary Folino's vibrant costumes, with coats and vests decorated in an assortment of stripes, plaids and oddball prints, add to the pleasure.

Around the World in 80 Days runs through February 3, 2013, at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $30 - $40, and are available by calling the box office at 215-574-3550, or online at or

-- Tim Dunleavy

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