The Beauty Queen of Leenane
While the in-your-face horror and gore that has become a trademark of playwright Martin McDonagh’s work merely simmers in "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," the slow burning psychological and nervous tension boils over in the Irish playwright’s freshman tragically bleak dark comedy now running at Kitchen Dog Theater.
"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" is set in the Irish village of Leenane and specifically takes place in the lived-in, worn kitchen of Maureen and her 70-year-old mother, Mag. Maureen seems to have resigned herself to the fact that she has been trapped into caring for her manipulative and domineering mother. When Maureen is given a chance at love and escape (through her neighbor Pato) she is eager to grasp it.
A pair of passionate performances is the pinnacle of Kitchen Dog Theater’s production. Karen Parrish (Maureen) and Scott Latham (Pato) turn in startlingly real portrayals of lonely, middle-aged, would-be lovers. Parrish steals a page out of the Meryl Streep encyclopedia of accents employing an Irish brogue so authentic and unwavering that it takes several passages of dialogue before it becomes decipherable. With her angry, fiery delivery of her lines and her expressive facial and suppressed body language, Parrish’s Maureen is a paragon of a ticking time bomb.
Latham completely disappears into his role, infusing Pato with earnestness, effortless charm, hopefulness and likeability. Latham’s monologue that opens the second act is one of the highlights of the show.
Set Designer Clare Floyd DeVries constructs a perfectly shabby, detailed, cluttered kitchen that helps amplify the claustrophobic toxic conditions in which Maureen and Mag exist. Director Cameron Cobb paces the action well especially allowing the tragic unraveling of Maureen it’s due time.
"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" seems very simple, almost passive, on the surface, but like all of McDonagh’s work is filled with layers of deceptions, secrets and plot twists that catch the audience off-guard. With one unforgettable sizzling exception, McDonagh places the action of the crucial plot points off-stage. It’s these off-stage moments and their on stage revelations and consequences that linger and resonate as all the pieces of the story fall into place.