There’s a chicken-and-egg debate that often comes up when discussing theatre. On the one hand, it’s tough to put on a good show without a quality script to work from. Even the greatest actors can only do so much with clunky dialogue. But on the other hand, without talented actors, even the best writing can go to waste.
Thankfully, in the case of Langham Court Theatre’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, it’s a debate that need not take place.
Start with the script. Martin McDonagh, considered by many to be the most important Irish playwright of our time, has delivered a profoundly compelling tale centred on the dysfunctional relationship between Maureen Folan, a 40-year-old spinster, and her 70-year-old mother, Mag. Themes of co-dependence, isolation and unfulfilled dreams are woven together with a tragicomic precision that is quintessentially Irish, which is especially impressive considering McDonagh actually spent the bulk of his upbringing in England, only visiting the Emerald Isle in the summers.
But this would only go so far if not for the excellent quartet of actors that director Judy Treloar has chosen to deliver the material. Naomi Simpson as Maureen, and Elizabeth Whitmarsh as Mag do a remarkable job of bringing McDonagh’s words to life. And Paul Wiebe and Bill Adams, as brothers Ray and Pato Dooley, are equal to the task as well.
But the bulk of Leenane belongs to Simpson and Whitmarsh, who throw themselves into their roles with fierce commitment. This is important, because the emotional journey undertaken by Maureen and Mag is no carefree day trip.
It’s difficult to sum up the plot of Leenane without giving too much away. But here are the basics. Maureen is one of three daughters to Mag, and the only one that seems to care about her whatsoever. The pair live together in a remote cottage, with Maureen keeping house and running errands while Mag has gradually become a shut-in, spending her days listening to the radio or watching television, “waiting for the news to come on.” Maureen has sacrificed her youth in order to care for Mag, so when a chance for some honest-to-goodness male companionship arises, she leaps at it with all the eagerness of a hyperactive puppy.
Of course, the thought of losing her last daughter to the arms of a man is unbearable for Mag, setting in motion a series of events which have potentially dire consequences for both women.
It’s an immensely absorbing story, equal parts uproariously funny and shockingly sad.
In addition to great writing and acting, Treloar and her crew have paid careful attention to detail that elevates Leenane to another level entirely. The set, designed by Adams (as if acting in the play isn’t enough) is a remarkable representation of an Irish cottage circa 1986, complete with working appliances and a very realistic wood stove. And every prop and set piece screams authenticity, from the real Irish meal supplements that Mag hates eating to a hand-embroidered wall hanging, which sums up many of the play’s themes.
There’s no debate that The Beauty Queen of Leenane is an entirely absorbing piece of theatre, one which audiences won’t easily forget. M
Beauty Queen of Leenane
Langham Court Theatre
Nov. 23-25, 29-30 at 8pm, November 26 at 2 pm
Tickets call 250-384-2142