Dorothy Parker once used “No one can hate like a close relative” as the subtitle of a short story. And while nothing could be further from Parker’s Manhattan environs than the Irish countryside, the phrase also fits The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The black comedy premiered in Galway just over 20 years ago and toured all over Ireland before making its way to Broadway two years later and winning a fistful of Tony Awards.
The setting and tone of Martin McDonagh’s play are distinctively Irish, but its story of family conflict is universal. A mother and daughter, the former a tyrannical biddy, the latter a frustrated spinster, are trapped together in their dreary cottage, inflicting small slights and great wounds on each other in an endless cycle of recrimination—until a suitor offers the younger woman a possible escape. Imagine Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? rewritten by Sean O’Casey.
A Public Fit Theatre company’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane offers a strong sense of place in its compact yet evocative stage set, in which ordinary objects suddenly carry dramatic weight—an unopened letter or a cup of broth become as potent an object as a gun or a crown. As Maureen, the fortyish daughter who dreams but doesn’t dare, Mindy Woodhead captures both the resentful, repressed woman who argues with her mother about the lumps in her porridge and the lusty, radiant lass who opens up under a man’s attention. She and Darren Weller, the man who may or may not rescue her, have a good chemistry. The pacing moves swiftly and the transitions from slapstick comedy to tense drama flow naturally and, while the twist at the end feels a bit forced, that’s a problem that lies on the author’s doorstep. The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a tale of life’s many disappointments, but that doesn’t stop it from being a satisfying night at the theater.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
A Public Fit Theatre Company
February 23-26, March 2-5, 7 p.m., 2 p.m. on Sun.
The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Pkwy.