Friday, November 23, 2012
Theater review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Kitchen Dog Theater
Does it take humor to thoughtfully reflect on sociopathic human behaviors?
DALLAS It’s hard not to wonder if playwright Martin McDonagh has a cruel streak, or if he’s simply trying to find the best tools to dissect the often bestial nature of the world. In The Pillow Man, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Beauty Queen of Leenane he digs ferociously into mankind’s ability to become cozy and nonchalant with sadistic, even sociopathic behavior. One suspects sardonic humor is injected as much for practical reasons as thematic component. Without excruciating comedy (such as it is) the experience might be completely unbearable. One also suspects (as we might also, say, with Albee or Rabe) that the author finds all this far more amusing than we do. If humor helps to survive the most harrowing (or at least, persistently painful) of circumstances, perhaps gallows humor is McDonagh’s only recourse. You can’t just walk away from his theatre, he’s too brilliant for that. He hurls lightning bolts like a deranged, flagrant, savage god, and it’s bit difficult to process when you’re still watching, participating in these mortifying journeys into the lonely lives of sacrificial lambs that make Job look like a hedonist.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane examines the relationship between Mag Folan and her grown daughter, Maureen. The two share a cottage in the Irish countryside. Mag is in her 80’s and Maureen, her 40’s. Mag is dependent on Maureen for many things, and Maureen, while relatively dutiful, is also openly resentful. The two need each other, yet feel contempt, loathing and vindictiveness as well. Mag (Nancy Sherrard) can’t get by on her own. She’s alienated the rest of the family, and doesn’t want to be institutionalized. Maureen cares for her mother, grudgingly, since she must constantly match wits with her. If Maureen (Karen Parrish) should fall in love, mother will lose her primary caretaker, so Mag has no compunctions about sabotaging her daughter’s chances for happiness. Any gratitude she might feel is eclipsed by her inability to care for herself. The connection between mother and daughter is symbiotic, yet drenched in cool animosity.
In the first act, Maureen brings home Pato Dooley, whom she‘s met at a party. Pato’s as sweet a man as ever you could find, and despite being tossed into Mag and Maureen’s poisonous tango, he navigates the situation ably. Maureen may be drowning in the waves of her own self-hatred, but Pato still manages to reach her, tenuously, if not completely. In the second act he writes, in effect proposing, giving his younger brother Ray, strict instructions to place the letter directly in Maureen’s hands. Pato has easily surmised Mag’s vested interest in his relationship to Maureen.
What follows is, of course, beyond heartbreaking. It’s especially disturbing because their situation doesn’t seem uncommon. We are forced to wonder what difference in the long-suffering, acerbic Mag, and her disgruntled, spinster daughter, Maureen, might have caused their attachment to take such a grotesque, pathological turn. Beauty Queen makes you wonder what Cinderella might have done, had she been thwarted, repeatedly. McDonagh explores the irony of consequences we endure for the sake of saving others. In his world, the response to grace is cynicism or contempt.
Sherrard and Parrish head a flawless cast that also includes Drew Wall and Scott Latham. It is hard to find words that do justice to the performances of Karen Parrish and Nancy Sherrard (under the guidance of Cameron Cobb). The ferocity and degree of personal investment necessary to fulfill such an excruciating and demanding script. It’s rare to see such a high caliber of acting and these two are nothing short of remarkable. Don’t miss this tragic, tumultuous show.
Pegasus News Content partner - Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
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