Irish brogues, psychotic breakdowns, and the question of “Oh my gosh, am I becoming my mother?” are all just a small part of what you will find in Nazareth College’s Theatre and Dance Department’s production of the darkly comedic play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
Originally premiering in Galway, Ireland, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, had successful runs both on the West End and Broadway, earning an Olivier nomination for best play, and six Tony nominations for the respective productions. The play is set in 1990’s Western Ireland and follows the lives of Maureen Folan (Claire Ganem), a 40 year old spinster living with her onerous, manipulative mother, Mag (Alexus Maxam). When love interest, Pato Dooley (Demetrio Alomar), shows up this already strained relationship between mother and daughter is put to the test in this black comedy.
The cast, as a whole, gives strong performances, but it is the leading ladies – or perhaps lasses, in this case – who truly deliver the most compelling performances. Senior, Claire Ganem, plays Maureen Folan, a 40 year old virgin, and primary caregiver of her ailing mother. Alexus Maxam, also a senior, plays opposite of Ganem as the nagging, elderly, Irish mother, Mag Folan, whose pestering demands of her daughter are veiled with a heavy dose of Irish-Catholic guilt.
Though the character of Mag ages Maxam by nearly half a century, Maxam commands the stage with a matriarchal air, and captivates even in prolonged silences. With guilt-inducing demands, humourous forgetfulness, and a sharp tongue, Maxam captures the essence of the aging Mag, and gives an especially heart-wrenching performance in her final scenes of the play. Ganem also carries her own, as her stressed demeanor and impatient insults truly show the frustrations Maureen faces caring for her mother. Ganem’s psychotic breakdown at the end of Act 2, particularly, shows the vast emotional range Ganem brought to the character.While separately, both actresses give exceptional performances, it is the mother-daughter relationship that they create onstage that truly carries the show. The almost parasitic dependency of the relationship lends itself to a darkly humorous dynamic between mother and daughter, a dynamic beautifully and tragically captured by both Ganem and Maxam.
Freshmen, Demetrio Alomar gives a comparable performance as the flirtatious, nervous, Pato Dooley, though at times the performance seems forced, especially during his monologue at the top of Act 2, where his lines feel ingenuine and his Irish brogue waivers noticeably. The standout performance for Alomar comes during his scenes with both Maxam and Ganem, as he humorously tries to diffuse the awkward situation between mother and daughter.
Rounding out this cast of 4 is senior, Joshua Feldman as the goofy, spastic, Ray Dooley. Though Feldman’s performance becomes almost melodramatic at times, it also becomes the source of many comedic moments throughout the show.
Under the direction of Dr. Matt Ames, the production feels very similar to his previously directed production of Tribes in the spring of last year – a dark comedy surrounding a broken family, struggling with their off-kilter familial dynamics. While both productions are, and were, directorially sound, it would be be nice to see some diversity between productions. The set design by Allen Shannon, much like the production itself, does have a familiarity harkening back to Tribes, but is well done, nonetheless. The set depicts the Folan’s living room and kitchen complete with a sink with running water. The small details of the set are what truly make it so well designed, with Irish poems hanging on the wall, portraits of JFK, and Catholic art and statues scattered throughout.
Though, subtle, it was the lighting design by Emily Stork that truly became a highlight of the production. From the lighting outside the windows, giving the appearance of natural light throughout the day, to the stunning use of LED’s at the bottom of Act 2, the design was a gorgeous addition to the show, that should not go unnoticed.
McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane poses a great many challenges for any cast, from the Irish accents needed from the actors, to the emotional range of the characters, and the cast at Nazareth College does an admirable job in their production.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane will run until Sunday, February 19th, with performances on Thursday and Friday at 7:30P.M. and Sunday at 2:00P.M. Tickets start at $10 and are free to Nazareth College students with a Naz ID.