The setting for Lantern Theater Company’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE reminds one of the cottages of fairy tales: the exposed stone walls, the crackling fire, the soft rain outside, and the methodical creak of the wooden rocker provides the soundtrack for our story and measures the slow and steady passage of time. We get the unique sense that, despite what lies outside the pebbled path leading from the front door, not much changes in this comfortable, cozy cabin. Life goes on “just as it should,” with its casual comings and goings, its menial tasks, and its Monday-through-Sunday routines.
Goldilocks, I thought, as a bowl of porridge was made. This could be the setting of Goldilocks.
However picturesque it may seem, life in County Galway is anything but a fairy tale for Maureen Folan, (played by Lantern newcomer, Megan Bellwoar) who is charged with the care of her cunning and manipulative mother, Mag (Mary Martello).
This mother-daughter relationship is a prime example of the relentless burden of family: the selfless slog of care for the elderly and the dreams one sacrifices for familial duty. Both Mag and Maureen, aided by years of experience, carefully and meticulously torture the other, using whatever weapon they deem best for the job. The audience asks itself: How can we spend a lifetime with someone, and still fail to communicate? Why is it so easy and so satisfying to hurt the ones who will always be there?
Maybe more like Hansel and Gretel, I corrected. But which one is the witch?
Martello is an inexhaustible force on stage as the bumbling, “helpless” mother. Her mind is always at work and her fingers ceaselessly smooth lace doilies and rumpled sweaters. Martello’s Mag lives and breathes in Leenane, so much so that it seems nearly impossible to imagine her in any other world, much less in the glamorous sets of the magnificent musicals we’re used to seeing Martello shine in. Martello has an unusual power over the audience; it seems nearly impossible to pry one’s eyes away. Her simplest actions are laced with calculated meaning, her every phrase a deliberate statement of condescension, judgment, and manipulation. Martello brings Mag away from a character on a page and fills her with so much life, she becomes a human being.
Bellwoar’s Maureen shines as a relationship begins to develop with childhood friend, Pato Dooley (played with a simple, honest charisma by Charlie DelMarcelle). Their passion and desire left me pink in the cheeks, not because of its movie magic quality, but because it seemed slightly awkward and all-together natural, like something that would happen in private homes and not on movie sets.
Sean Lally finishes off the cast as Pato’s younger brother, Ray Dooley. Lally’s energy is uniquely his own, adding another layer to an already complicated symphony of wants, needs, and lost desires.
Martin McDonagh’s script is a complicated stew, leaving the audience feeling empathetic, disgusted, saddened, and yet, entertained. Under Kathryn MacMillan’s direction, we are given a glimpse into a slightly-heightened reality of family and the sacrifices we make in order to do what’s “best.” (And how, despite those sacrifices, we still treat the other terribly.)
THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE runs through February 10 at St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th and Ludlow Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Tickets: Adults ($10-38), Seniors ($20-33), Students ($10-28). $10 Student Rush tickets are available, as are special discounts for Seniors and Groups of 10+. To order, call 215-829-0395 or go online at www.lanterntheater.org.