Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Theater review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at ICT Studio in Irving
Despite some inconsistent accents, ICT Mainstage's production of Beauty Queen of Leenane is well worth the effort.
I heard a lot about The Beauty Queen of Leenane (presented by ICT Mainstage at ICT Studio through September 4) over a decade ago – how it was brilliant and genre-changing, how it was full of horrific gasp-invoking twists, and how no cast, other than the original four actors who brought it, in record time, from Ireland to London to off-Broadway to winning the Tony for Best Play on Broadway, could ever hope to do it justice again.
So imagine my trepidation when I was offered the chance, finally, to see this play, and learned that it would be performed in a tiny little theatre in a shopping center in Irving where the admission price was only $8.
Well, let me put any doubts about the excellence of this production to rest immediately -- you need to stop reading this review, call 972-594-6104, and get your tickets NOW for the most impressively performed drama that I have seen in I can't remember how long. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Got your tickets now? Great, you can thank me later. On with why you're going to be blown away by this show...
The play is set in a tiny kitchen in a tiny cottage in a tiny town in impoverished Ireland. The cottage belongs to a mean and ungrateful old woman, Mag, and her spinster daughter, Maureen. Maureen is her mother's sole caretaker, as Mag's other two daughters grabbed their chances years ago to get married and escape. Maureen and Mag's relationship is tense and hurtful, a constant war of words, wills, and one-upmanship. (One of these words, "feck," is now officially my newest favorite euphemistic curse word.)
Director/Set Designer/Lighting Designer/Co-Sound Designer/Co-Set Constructor Scott Nixon has created a picture perfect kitchen-cum-prison cell for the setting of this entire play. The stage area is no bigger than 12 feet wide by four feet deep, with a working sink and stove, and floor-to-ceiling cubbyholes stuffed (thanks to Set Dresser/Property Mistress Rayna Nixon) with the debris and detritus of a lifetime – a lifetime of depression and inertia. As the play progresses, you can feel the walls of their not-so-solitary confinement closing in on you as well.
If author Martin McDonagh's name sounds familiar to you, it's probably because of his impressive writing/directing efforts lately in the movies Six Shooter and In Bruges. McDonagh's script is tight and tension-inducing, and could have become tedious if the pacing had lagged, but Nixon keeps his cast on its toes – no dropped cues or superfluous pauses to make A Big Dramatic Point here. In fact, I'd read that the play was two hours and twenty minutes long, but this production, even with a fifteen-minute intermission, finished at just over two hours.
The length of the play was all that I had read about it - intentionally - because I didn't want to stumble over any spoilers. I encourage each of you to do the same – just go and let the show draw you in and shock you with the way the plot develops. You'll root for Maureen and her winsome lover Pato, and feel the apprehension rise in your heart as you see the chances for heartbreaking missed opportunities increase. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that, if you've ever read a novel by Thomas Hardy, you'll know at the beginning of Act II that Murphy's law will be the law of Leenane – especially since evil Mag is Murphy's oh-so-willing assistant.
Which brings me to one of my few quibbles with this show: the portrayal of Mag. This witchy woman should come across as more than mischievous or malicious – she should be vicious. As rendered here, though, she is whiny and annoying, but not vile enough to invite her shocking comeuppance.
But that could be because of the amazing, overshadowing performance of Maureen W. McDonald as Maureen Folan. From the moment she steps onto the stage, she owns it. She is head and shoulders above everyone in this show and in several other shows that are currently running in DFW. I'd never seen this actress' work before, but I guarantee you I will never miss her in another show again. Her rage, initially reined in, builds to a disturbing unbridling that is completely organic and believable. Her tears in the last two minutes of the show are real – there's no mistaking that in a theatre this small. And her accent is also the best and most believable one onstage.
Ugh. Accents. My pet peeve. All four of these characters were supposed to have been lifelong residents of Leenane, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, but their accents were each completely different. And that's because an accent is not all that's needed to convey a manner of speaking that is not an actor's normal one. The correct prosody – the rhythm, cadence, pitch, pausing, and parsing – of the dialect is also essential. McDonald has both the brogue and the prosody down pat; Nathan Autrey, as comic relief Ray Dooley, has the brogue but not the prosody; Chase Burnett, as romantic dreamboat Pato Dooley, has the prosody but not the brogue; and Brenda Galgan's Mag has neither.
Please don't think that I'm coming down on Galgan's performance – her final moments onstage are jaw-dropping and gut-wrenching. My nitpicking is just that her character went from zero to one million in thirty seconds, rather than keeping pace with McDonald's seething, simmering fury that finally boils over into wrath. To give Galgan the full credit she deserves, let me tell you how her performance stuck with me: whenever I review a show, I start putting down my short takes on the computer as soon as I get home, then sleep on it and come back to it the next day to finish it. Last night, I dreamt about this show all ... night ... long. And more about Galgan's incomparable finish than about any other part.
Phil Nixon and Scott Nixon picked wonderfully authentic music for both the radio sequences onstage and the blackout "scene changes" – where the set didn't change at all, only the positions of the actors did. However, at times the radio music overpowered the dialogue between Maureen and Mag, making it difficult to hear them. Not a word can be missed in this play – every syllable is essential to the escalating tension and astounding climax. Perhaps because this was opening night, the actresses weren't ready for the noise-absorbing effect of the packed house. But by Act II, McDonald was projecting more and was easier to be heard.
And when I say a packed house, I mean jam-packed. Right up to curtain time, extra chairs were being added for the audience – in the aisles, under the catwalk, in places that couldn't even charitably be called "seats with restricted views." But not one audience member complained. The drama unfolding before us hooked us all in.
The tension built so astutely that I accidentally crushed the thin plastic cup that held my Dr Pepper during Maureen's eerily beautifully lit next-to-last scene. And though the noise startled me, it didn't cause any other audience members even to flinch, they were so absorbed by the action onstage.
One last tiny cavil: get a real iron fire poker. Both Autrey and McDonald wield it throughout the play as though it has real heft – so it was disappointing when, near the end of the play, it was dropped and just gave a little "click" as it landed, like a plastic Halloween prop for a toddler would, instead of the satisfying "CLUNK" that we expected – nay, NEEDED – to hear. And you NEED to see this show.
Would I go see this show again? Yes. But no. Let me tell you why: I want to see it again, but I don't want to deny even one member of the DFW theatre-going public the chance to see this incredible show by taking up a seat in this theatre that doesn't even hold 50 patrons.
By the time you read this review, there will be only two scheduled performances left. Hopefully, ICT on the Edge will either add some matinees next weekend, or a Thursday performance this week, or extend the run to include another weekend, or (I implore you, St. Genesius, patron saint of all things theatrical) ALL OF THE ABOVE.
And a ticket would be a steal at triple its current price. So what the feck are you waiting for? Go see it.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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