The Beauty Queen Of Leenane by Theatre Pro Rata performing on the Andy Boss Stage at Park Square

Sally Wingert and Amber Bjork in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane. Photo by Charles Gorill.

Sally Wingert and Amber Bjork in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane. Photo by Charles Gorill.

The fate of the Irish is well explored territory in the last one hundred years of drama. For Twin Cities’ audiences, the latest offering in this genre is Theatre Pro Rata’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Park Square’s Boss Stage, through Jan 24).

A playwright wanting to bring something new to Irish drama has a few choices. In the recent staging of Colin McPherson’s The Night Alive at the Jungle we were given a rare sentimental happy ending. In The Beauty Queen playwright Martin McDonagh chooses the opposite course: he heightens the onstage sadism and cruel irony of lives almost – but never fully – lived.

From very beginning there is little love lost between Mag, a feeble but still alert 79 year old woman in county Galway, Ireland and her daughter, Maureen. Their damp lives are measured by bowls of porridge and soggy tea bags. Of the four actors in the cast Sally Wingert’s performance as Mag is by far the most fully formed. Wingert delivers her lines with the slant of her head and feet planted wide in a perfect portrayal of a woman nearing her eighth decade. At one point Wingert’s Mag sits in her rocking chair, finishes eating her porridge then, at just the right moment, sticks a finger in her mouth to remove a wedge of gruel still stuck in her gums. And we all laugh. Wingert makes it all seem as easy and savory as pouring another cup of tea.

Amber Bjork as Mag delivers the loneliness and frustration of a woman who by default has inherited the job of parental caretaking since her two older sisters left home. She is believable as the sexually repressed virgin in search of a good man. The scenes where she is required to manifest her mentally instability often seem mechanical rather than truly lived. The actress playing this part needs to be by turns lonely, angry, sexually repressed, sexually demanding, mentally unstable and ultimately violently sadistic. This is not an easy task for any actor and Amber Bjork is successful much, if not all of the time.

Her perspective lover, Pato, is a charmer and a good-hearted man. Actor Grant Henderson certainly looks the part, even to the shock of ruddy hair combed to the left, in Jack Kennedy style, and delivers a good Irish accent in his role but he adds little charm or sincerity. Pato’s long monologue in the second act is a place for real emotional veracity but it falls a short, sounding more like a laundry list than a proposal.

The themes of poverty, hope for a better life elsewhere and brewing violence are familiar tropes in Irish drama. Andrea Heilman’s set adds a surprising twist with surreal blue stones that mirror the disjointed lives of this sad Irish drama. The music which bookends most scenes lends an undertone of history to the troubles and woe we see played out on stage.

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