The Beauty Queen of Leenane

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 14, 2017

Marie Mullen and Aisling O'Sullivan in "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."
Marie Mullen and Aisling O'Sullivan in "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."  (Source:ArtsEmerson)

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Martin McDonagh's 1996 hit, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," Galway's Druid Theater Company has embarked on a world tour currently in residence at ArtsEmerson after a successful New York run.

The original production, also by Druid, took New York by storm in 1998 winning four of the six Tonys for which it was nominated.

McDonagh's black comedy takes place in a small village on the west coast of Ireland where a forty-year-old virgin, Maureen, lives in a tiny hovel with her vicious and domineering seventy-year-old mother, Mag. The two engage in a never ending all-out battle of wits that is both wickedly funny and heartbreakingly tragic.

For self-proclaimed "theater geeks" this production specifically is a must see due to those involved. Not only is it mounted by the same company as the original production, but it also reunites two of Druid's co-founders -- Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen. Ms. Hynes also directed the original production and Ms. Mullen, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Maureen, returns to the work this time assuming the role (and rocking chair) of Mag.

What is most fascinating about this staging is Ms. Hynes ability to create a production of contradictions. The comedic elements verge on slapstick, while the tragic moments are breathtakingly still. The script focuses on the isolation and confinement of these people, yet Francis O'Connor's set is open and spacious -- dominated by an expanse of sky. It's an enthralling study in the "grey" that is life.

This type of high wire act can only be accomplished with top notch acting and Druid gives it to us in spades.

Aisling O'Sullivan as the desperately trapped Maureen is both luminescent and downtrodden. She is fiercely intelligent and beautiful without knowing either about herself. There is also an undercurrent of violence and rage that seems to linger around her making her performance all the more thrilling.

And Marie Mullen's Meg is a delightfully, epically awful human being. The twinkle in her eye as she torments those around her gives her the air of a mythological trickster -- or more likely a demon come to earth for a few laughs. Yet despite this obviously glee, you sense with every breath that she is also a caged animal and there is a very valid reason she behaves this way. We just will never know it.

As for the two men -- Marty Rea as Maureen's love interest, Pato, and Aaron Monaghan as his younger brother, Ray -- each holds their own and does an outstanding job. Mr. Rea is sincere and charming and Mr. Monaghan is daft and amiable. But this really is a play for and about the women.

During the cold of February most would not want to see a play about cold, rainy Ireland -- but the fire generated by these two actresses will be enough to keep you warm.

"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" continues through February 26 at the Emerson/Paramount Center, Robert J. Orchard Stage, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For further information, ArtsEmerson website.