Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE

Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

With Irish accents you could make a meal of, Lantern’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, under director Kathryn MacMillan’s sharp eye and steady hand, is an unqualified triumph. 

Like all of McDonagh’s early plays, Beauty Queen takes place in rural Ireland, and it is as much about the place as it is about the people who inhabit it: extreme personalities, desperate and needy, longing for escape, filled with spite. Often his characters are violent, stuffed with irrational self-justifications, and mostly these characters are men.  Here the difference is the characters are women and they are locked in vicious combat.  Another difference is that, unlike The Lieutenant of Inishmore , Lonesome West, or A Skull in Connamara, this play isn’t funny. 

Maureen (Megan Bellwoar) is forty; she is a dutiful, resentful daughter to Mag (Mary Martello) who is manipulative, selfish, complaining, and given to emptying her bedpan in the kitchen sink.  When Pato (Charlie DelMarcelle) turns up and courts Maureen, the equilibrium of mutual loathing is knocked off kilter.  Aided by the stupidity and pettiness of Pato’s brother Ray (Sean Lally), things go downhill in appalling ways. The second act is a cascade of shocks (no spoilers).  

The performances are perfectly nuanced; Bellwoar beautifully, delicately conveys the heartbreaking combination of resignation and sudden hope.  Martello, hardly recognizable as the sexy diva we know, is mistress of the malevolent gaze, a dreadful lump in a rocking chair. And DelMarcelle’s Pato is so charming, so sensible and kind that we hope, too. 

And like the acting, the set (designed by Dirk Durossette) is perfectly detailed, from the famed photo of JFK to the crunch of gravel outside to the ancient iron stove.  Perhaps most telling—almost a gloss on the play itself-- is the little embroidered motto hung on the wall: “May you have half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you’re dead.”  Half an hour would be generous.

Don’t miss this one.

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Lantern Theatre at St. Stephen’s, 10th & Ludlow. Through Feb.10   Tickets $30-38. Information: 215-829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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