Friday, January 8, 2016

The Beauty Queen of Leenane - Theatre Pro Rata

Amber Bjork and Sally Wingert. Photo by Charles Gorrill.
(Pay no attention to the frying pan.)
Martin McDonagh is my spirit animal. In his work, flowing, lilting language, interspersed with cutting remarks and colorful cursing, combines to create the funniest and most disquieting dark humor--and then things get a little darker.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Theatre Pro Rata and playing now at the Andy Boss stage at Park Square Theatre (through January 24), is an excellent introduction to Martin McDonagh's work.

Mag and Maureen Folan, spiteful mother and bitter spinster daughter respectively, live together in a small house in Leenane, locked in a poisonous relationship. When Maureen's long lost crush returns to Leenane, she starts to envision a different future for herself. However, as Theater Pro Rata puts it, "In his first published work, master tragedian Martin McDonagh proves that when cruelty is met with cruelty, all promises of civility are forfeit." I'd also add that in addition to being a master tragedian, Martin McDonagh writes some of the funniest dialogue and situations I've ever seen on stage.

Photo by Charles Gorrill
Director Carin Bratlie Wethern keeps the pace brisk and the tension high--relieved only by more laughter than you'd expect. Local treasure Sally Wingert, playing the mother, alternately put-upon, vicious and sneaky, captures the sly nature of McDonagh's language perfectly and hits every subtle and hilarious note. Amber Bjork ably holds her own as daughter Maureen, spinning from bitter daughter to free spirit to something much more dark and mysterious. Taylor Evans as Ray, and Grant Henderson as Pato alternately adds bits of humor, menace and sweetness. And the accents were spot on--with McDonagh's language, you've got to get the Irish right.

The staging is well-done, with most of the action centered around Mag in her rocking chair. The continuously playing television and radio lend even more tension to the scenes (sound design by Jake Davis) as do the visible stove (and poker), and the lighting (by Julia Carlis) sets the tone beautifully.

Go see it--you seldom see this beautiful combination of humor and darkness done so beautifully. You'll leave the theater tired from laughing but shaking off a bit of a macabre chill. Theatre Pro Rata is fast becoming one of my favorite theaters in town.

A note: There's a quick language guide in the program, but for those questions that you may be left with (What is Mag eating and drinking?), check out their Online Play Guide. It'll be after saving you a bit of Googling, to be sure. There is a ton of additional information on their website--well done, Theatre Pro Rata. I love an online program.

One more note: Dear MN Theaters: Please do more Martin McDonagh plays. Thanks, me. Also plays by women and from communities of color. Okay, I'm done now. Thanks for everything, love, me again.