The Beauty Queen of Leenane

by Martin McDonagh

directed by Ann Bowen

Michael Chekhov Theatre production, 9/11/2010 - 9/28/2010

ARTZINE review by Louis Lopardi, 9/26/2010

 

The Michael Chekhov Theatre Company presents a classic black-box staging of McDonagh's breakout 1996 play in their home of the past few years in the 45th Street Theatre complex. Theirs is a small but amiable theater, better served by professional house management (staff on the date I attended was overwhelmed by a near-capacity crowd). This production features a light and loving touch by director Ann Bowen and a perfect cast. Through Tuesday, September 28th.

A visit to the Folan household courtesy of playwright McDonagh should have the quality of a visit to a strange, half remembered childhood - one which perhaps never existed at all. This production supported that atmosphere, and never marred the impeccable classical structure of the play. McDonagh, admittedly, writes fast; story is all, and all is sacrificed to story. This does put pressure on supporting roles and in fact any role whose background is only hinted at. Events are painted in broad strokes, even the logical underpinnings of plot points are applied as with a palette knife - thick, and easy to see.

Putting so much of the play in bold relief assures audience participation and makes a director's job a bit easier. In the hands of a less experienced director this can be a pitfall as too much can be overwrought. Ann Bowen does not fall into this trap. She directs lightly, without overcasts, letting the story shine through. Her tendency to slower, more methodical pacings here worked to the play's advantage, letting things breathe, letting the emotions develop naturally and the actors find their footing graciously. She was defeated only by a harsh, four-square set design which forced much of the action into an upstage-downstage split that hampered, at the very least, many of the comic interactions.

Violence permeates the play - in the veiled and outright threats catapulting amongst several characters, in the stuttering artifice of the language . . . It drips in from the outside world: from the environs of their village, from England, from the world at large. Still, when the violence is actualized it takes many by surprise. Admirably enough, even the actors themselves.

Thanks to the skill of Duvall O'Steen, none were more surprised by events than the protagonist Maureen, a middle-aged virgin aching to break out of both her curse as mentally unstable and her role as mother guardian. As Ms. O'Steen played her, Maureen was more adept at self delusion than at manipulating others. The master of manipulation rightfully remained her mother Mag, played by the superb Evangeline Johns. Both possessive and self-possessed, this Mag Folan cajoled and blustered, flirted and flailed, controlling the world within arm's reach and then some. Her intensity was such that she could accomplish wonders with merely the raising of her eyes.

 

Maureen's sometimes suitor Pato Dooley was played by Thomas Francis Murphy with a lightness of spirit that made his quick decision making believable. This Pato was an opportune, practical man for whom emotions of the moment hit quickly, darkened, were considered, and dismissed. His younger brother Ray, often relied on as the sole comic foible in some productions, here was portrayed with wider range than one usually sees in this play by the versatile Goran Ivanovski.

Some awkward technical moments (and a critical scene change) could have been helped by more astute technical direction (uncredited), and perhaps a more thoughtful set design. Lighting by Joan Racho-Jansen was atmospheric and never obtrusive.