Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Playwright:  Martin McDonagh
Venue:  The Edge Theatre, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood CO  80214
Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, March 22, 2014 

Leenane is a small village in County Galway, on the rocky west coast of Ireland.  Martin McDonaugh's Tony Award winning black comedy is set in Leenane, an isolated, harsh environment that McDonaugh has populated with bleak and cynical characters.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane debuted in Galway in 1996, and won four Tony Awards on Broadway in 1998.  Billed as a dark comedy, the script is both funny and tragic.  
The plot revolves around Maureen Folan (Emily Paton Davies), a decidedly plain woman in her 40's whose main task in life is to care for her prickly and ungrateful mother, Mag Folan (Emma Messenger).  Maureen's caregiving skills are borderline, and she teeters somewhere between tolerating her mother and hating her.  Her life is very lonely; she is unmarried and probably destined to stay that way forever.  Despite her history of mental illness, Maureen seems to cope well with the grim reality of her daily life.
The Dooley boys (Ray, played by Michael Bouchard and Pato, played by Mark Collins) are neighbors.  There is a romantic spark between Maureen and Pato in the first act, and that spark drives the plot through its tragic conclusion.  
One way to measure the power of a performance is to pay attention to the audience reaction.  Based on those reactions, Beauty Queen at The Edge is one very powerful production.  The audience was laughing out loud at the comedy, but also reacting viscerally to the tragedy.  There were audible gasps at the brutality on stage, and whispers of disbelief at the complete depravity of the tragic turns.
Cast L-R:  Michael Bouchard, Mark Collins, Emily Paton Davies.  Front:  Emma Messenger.
Emma Messenger's performance as Mag is, as the Irish might say, "bang on."  She whines.  She squints.  She stares.  She glares.  She moans.  She shuffles.  She dumps her bedpan in the kitchen sink.  She commands the stage every moment she is on it.  
Emily Paton Davies sparkles as Maureen, the lonely, semi-dedicated caregiver on a doomed quest for love.  She is the disturbed, dysfunctional "beauty queen" who is ultimately incapable of love.  Paton Davies heats up the stage with her passion for Pato, but dashes her own dreams with her sociopathic descent into madness.  The chemistry between Paton Davies and Pato (Mark Collins) is palpable; she boldly seduces him and brags about it to her mother.  Paton Davies takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride, playing the audience like a violin.
Mark Collins and Michael Bouchard are compelling as the Dooleys; both are talented, capable actors with credible Irish brogues.  Collins is endearing as the lovable Pato with a dismal but predictable future.  His monologue at the beginning of the second act is touching and heartfelt.  Bouchard brings his considerable comic chops to his role as  Ray.
The Edge puts its talented cast on Christopher Waller's gorgeously detailed set; an Irish farmhouse complete with a functional sink and a wood burning stove.  
Director Michael Stricker deftly shows us a nearly normal Maureen who struggles with flashes of insanity.  Stricker emphasizes the love starved but lovable Maureen, saving the evil Maureen for maximum shock value.  At times, the direction is also tender.  When Maureen wants Pato to touch her, it is done in a mature, delicate manner.  What could have been vulgar comes off as delicate and tasteful.
In the intimate space at The Edge, any flaw is magnified.  That said, Emma Messenger's makeup is flawless.  The staff has aged her to perfection, from the wig to her slippers and socks.  It's more than makeup and costumes though.  Her face includes prosthetic cheeks and jowls, giving her the appearance of a 70 year old.  Caroline Smith (prosthetics) and Brynn Starr Coplan (costumes) have done a marvelous job of totally changing Messenger's appearance.
McDonagh's script turns the traditional love story upside down.  Instead of showing us the power of love, we see the consequences when love is lost, absent, and unattainable.  It's a powerful if bleak reminder of how we all need someone to love in our lives.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane in the hands of The Edge Theatre is unquestionably a complete joy to watch.  It is one of those rare theater experiences that engages, teaches, and stays with you long after you leave the parking lot.  The Edge has delivered some sparkling shows recently (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Orphans).  The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues the string, and I think it's the best of the three.  In fact, it is safe to say that The Edge is in an elite group of the best theaters in Colorado.  Based on The Beauty Queen, it is arguably the very best.
If you haven't bought a ticket yet, you should get one.  Now.  Before they're gone.

The dialog comes with a heavy Irish accent.  It will take most in the audience a few minutes to get used to the accent and cadence.  A few hints:  "Kimberlys" are cookies (or biscuits, in Ireland).  Mag Folan eats "porridge."  "Wee" doesn't always refer to something small.
This show closes on March 30, 2014.  This show is recommended for adults.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
One of my favorites is within 10-15 minutes of The Edge Theatre:  The Yardhouse, 14500 West Colfax Ave., Lakewood, CO 80401 (in the Colorado Mills Mall).  You will not find a better selection of draft (and mostly craft) beers anywhere.  The food is very good, and the background music is always classic rock and roll.   Happy Hour (3-6:00 PM) includes half price appetizers.  It does get busy, though, so add 15 minutes minimum wait time to your plans if you don't use call ahead seating.

Photo Credits:  The Edge Theatre Company.

Director: Michael Stricker
Set/Lighting Design: Christopher Waller
Master Carpenter Emeritus: Rich Munoz
Sound Design:  Kenny Storms
Costume Design:  Brynn Starr Coplan
Prosthetics:  Caroline Smith
Dialog Coach:  Scott Bellot

Maureen Folan:  Emily Paton Davies
Mag Folan:  Emma Messenger
Pato Dooley:  Mark Collins

Ray Dooley:  Michael Bouchard

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