Took a trip to east end Toronto ‘hood Leslieville last night to see the opening of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Directed by Wes Berger, this Beauty Queen features an outstanding foursome of a cast: Rosemary Doyle, Lynne Griffin (who Lost Girl fans will recognize from season one ep. “Food For Thought” as Halima, the nice Aswang lady who becomes Lauren’s patient after cooking up a bad batch of foot soup), Paul Kelly and Sean Sullivan. Doyle is also the owner/A.D. of Red Sandcastle Theatre – if you missed my recent blog interview with her, you can read it here.
The first play of McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy (which continues with A Skull in Connemara and finishes with The Lonesome West; the latter had a fine production mounted by the Toronto Irish Players a couple of years ago), The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a story of fierce, often brutally funny, family dysfunction – in this case, it’s a mother (Griffin as Mag Folan) and daughter (Doyle as Maureen Folan) at each others’ throats.
Mag and Maureen are begrudgingly settled into their lives of not-so-quiet desperation in their small rural family home – and their dynamic of mutual sniping and vengeful, petty tortures has a cellmate quality to it. Added to the mix are the Dooley brothers Ray (played by Kelly) and Pato (Sullivan), long-time neighbours and, in Ray’s case at least, family frenemies. And Pato’s recent return from work in England to visit for a family do offers an oasis of possibility for Maureen. Since this is a Martin McDonagh play, no one is as they seem, and plans have a way of twisting and turning. And the darkly funny family dysfunction at the Folan house may be far more complex and feral than it appears.
Griffin and Doyle have excellent chemistry as the feuding mother and daughter. Griffin deftly works the layers of Mag’s girlish charm and passive aggressive, high-maintenance Irish mother – and it’s a pleasure to watch her sly, devilish delight as she plots interference. Doyle does a stellar job, giving us a Maureen who, beneath the bored, put-upon 40-year-old spinster, has a deep well of sexuality, ambition and potentially darker passions bubbling near the surface. Kelly is a treat as Ray, the rough and tough-talking simple younger brother who adores Australian soaps, and provides some much needed comic relief. Sullivan is lovely as Pato, a sweet and gentlemanly bachelor of a certain age – full of longing and youthful enthusiasm, like Maureen – but frustrated and underachieving in a job that’s beneath his ambition.
I’ve really come to enjoy McDonagh’s writing. It’s raw, fierce and discomfiting – and pulls no punches (I also had the pleasure of seeing an excellent production of McDonagh’s The Pillowman, mounted by Rarely Pure Theatre last year). McDonagh’s work is not for the faint of heart. Don’t come out expecting the quaint, cozy Irish of Barry Fitzgerald and “Tura Lura Lural” – there’s nothing wrong with that, but you won’t be getting any of it here.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues its run at Red Sandcastle Theatre until February 1,with performances on Jan 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 and Feb 1 at 8 p.m., and a 2 p.m. matinee on Jan 27. Given the popularity of this play, the short run and the intimacy of the space, I highly recommend booking a reservation in advance. You can do so by calling the box office (416-845-9411) or via Rosemary Doyle’s Twitter page.
Production photos by Paul Kelly and Sean Sullivan: