Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
If mother-daughter cage fighting were a thing, Martin McDonagh would have to be credited with inventing it, in his dark Irish comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane. In the current production by A Public Fit, one of Las Vegas's best theatre companies, director Ann-Marie Pereth finds both the humor and the tragedy in this dysfunctional family unit.
Forty years old and never married, Maureen devotes herself full-time to the care of her elderly and demanding mother Mag and the family farm in an isolated corner of Connemara. Her two sisters are too busy with their families to help out, or even to drop by for a visit. Understandably, Maureen resents her enslavement as well as Mag's ingratitude and daily insults. When a suitor presents himself, Maureen's hopes are revived, but Mag will do anything to prevent her daughter from abandoning her.
Among the performers, top honors go to Darren Weller for his brilliant and utterly natural portrayal of Maureen's suitor, Pato Dooley. His Pato is kind and candid; even when flirtatious, he is completely without artifice. Stumbling into the kitchen after his overnight dalliance with Maureen, Pato has a delightfully awkward encounter with the startled Mag. Weller's timing is perfect; he mines every bit of humor without over-reaching. In act two, his opening monologue is quietly stunning. He hardly seems to be acting at all. In short, he is a terrific interpreter of McDonagh.
Mindy Woodhead convincingly captures Maureen's bitterness and resignation from her very first entrance, stamping her muddy boots at the front door as though she were stomping out her very existence. When Pato enters her life, Maureen is physically transformed; her facedrawn and dark beforesuddenly begins to glow. When Maureen and Pato get physical, her awkwardness and desperation are palpable. When she shivers, we feel cold. Under Pereth's direction, however, Woodhead reveals too much of Maureen's inner torment too soon. Maureen may be deeply troubled, but much of the play's impact depends on delaying this revelation. If her true nature is telegraphed too soon, act two loses some of its shock value. Nonetheless, Woodhead shines in the play's final moments, where Maureen's destiny becomes clear.
Joan Mullaney's Mag has a disarming smile that hides her abusive nature from casual visitors. Even from the audience's perspective, her selfishness reveals itself only gradually. Mullaney underplays the role nicely.
As Ray Dooley, Pato's slow-witted and slightly thuggish younger brother, gifted actor Mike Rasmussen turns in an uncharacteristically over-the-top performance. Ray may be a yob, but he should not be a cartoon. Although Rasmussen delivers plenty of comic relief, some of the humor he creates is not organic to the character; at times, his performance belongs in a different play. In McDonagh's world, the characters may be quirky, but they should remain compellingly real.
One of the stars of this production is set designer Eric A. Koger's beautiful rendering of the remote Connemara cottage. As the characters approach the front door from outside, you can feel the cold and damp. Inside the warm but claustrophobic interior, the centerpiece is a wood-burning cast iron stove that is in constant usefor tea, porridge, and Complan, as well as some crucial plot developments. Looming overhead, the cut-away roof consists of criss-crossed rafters, suggesting the cage in which the two women are locked in subtle yet mortal combat.
For the most part, the production is well paced; only Ray's scenes have been unduly drawn out in the quest for humor. A mild distraction is the wide variety of accents, none of them convincingly Irish. Also, on opening night, the passage of time in act two was slightly obscured by a failure to sufficiently clean up a spilled liquid between scenes; hopefully this will be addressed for later performances. However, these minor problems detract only slightly from a production that is well worth seeing.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues through March 5, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sun. at 2 pm, and Saturday, March 4, at 2pm), at The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV (behind the PublicUs coffeehouse). For tickets ($25 general admission, $20 students and seniors) or further information, go to www.apublicfit.org.