By Martin McDonagh; Directed by Garry Hynes
Produced by Druid
Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 2.5.17
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
by Regina Robbins on 1.18.17
Marie Mullen and Aisling O'Sullivan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: The play that launched a writer’s career and won a ton of awards two decades ago is back, and its sad truths and perverse humor have not lost their power.
The twentieth anniversary production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, now running at BAM, is in some ways a “reboot” of the original: it is produced by the same company (Ireland’s esteemed Druid), has the same director (Garry Hynes, co-founder of Druid), and features one of the same actors (Marie Mullen, originally in the daughter role, now playing the mother). It’s no wonder these artists would want to return to the piece, which played throughout Ireland, in London, and in New York both off and on Broadway in that initial run, ultimately winning four Tony Awards, including one for Mullen and one for Hynes (who was the first woman to win in her category). With all that history and success, a Beauty Queen revival is a no-brainer. It’s also a must-see.
Playwright Martin McDonagh has had great success in the decades since Leenane premiered, writing pitch-black, violent comedies both for the stage (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Pillowman) and the screen (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). It all started with the Folans, mother Mag (Mullen) and daughter Maureen (Aisling O’Sullivan), living in a drab home in rural western Ireland in the 1970s. We know it’s the ‘70s because of the music on the radio, despite the fact that the women’s clothing looks about twenty years out of date. Mag, a septuagenarian with various physical complaints, is part spoiled child and part evil genius; middle-aged Maureen has become her mother’s caregiver both out of a sense of responsibility and because there aren’t many other options for her in this time and place. There is no love between these two, just history and hopelessness. Depressing? Yes, but also grimly hilarious.
Rounding out the excellent cast are Marty Rea and Aaron Monaghan as a pair of brothers who stir up the lives of the Folan women. With just four actors and a single set, McDonagh and Hynes are able to present a slice of Irish life that sheds light on how the country’s complex history (colonization, poverty, violence) manifests itself on a human level. As those familiar with McDonagh’s body of work might guess, Leenane allows its characters to do incredibly ugly things, but also creates moments of sincere sweetness between the gasps and the guilty laughs. Just like Mag does to Maureen, the play will toy with your emotions; and just like Maureen with Mag, it’ll stick with you.
(The Beauty Queen of Leenane plays at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, through February 5, 2017. The running time is two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $25 - $110 and are available at bam.org.)
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Garry Hynes. Set Design by Francis O'Connor. Lighting Design by James F. Ingalls. Sound Design by Greg Clarke. Music by Paddy Cunneen.
The cast is Aaron Monaghan, Marie Mullen, Aisling O'Sullivan, and Marty Rea.