Who could take a dark, drab, depressing Irish play and turn it into a display of superior acting that will hold its audience spellbound from beginning to end?
Tony Estrella’s Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre, that’s who.
Under the direction of Judith Swift, Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” represents what four outstanding actors can do with a play filled with three out of four troubled (at times despicable) characters who lie, cheat and hurt each other to the bitter end.
Wendy Overly plays Mag Folan, the bitter, demanding, manipulative mother of 40-year-old spinster Maureen (Jeanine Kane). Overly is so intensely convincing with her gestures, facial expressions, quick barbs and abrasive personality that she often overpowers the other three actors, all of whom have taken their roles to new heights.
Mother and daughter are in a constant state of war, hurling abusive, hurtful comments at each other, lying, deceiving and eventually hurting each other beyond comprehension.
Neighbor Ray Dooley (Joe Short) is one spastic, self-centered nutcase who fails at the one simple request his brother makes of him.
Steve Kidd plays Pato Dooley, the one redeeming character in the play. He is home from London for a brief time and has a failed one-night stand with Maureen, which she throws in the face of her mother. Pato doesn’t always say the right thing, but unlike the other three his heart is worn on his sleeve.
The play is filled with so many little nuances that require skilled interpretation by the cast. Frequently, Maureen at stage right at the kitchen table and Mag in her rocking chair at stage left are engaged in verbal battles. Our eyes scan Michael McGarty’s brilliant cluttered set, not wanting to miss a reaction. The two do everything within their power to hurt each other, while we can’t help but laugh nervously at their viciousness.
Maureen’s “last chance at love” is thwarted by a despicable act, causing her to retaliate in an even more despicable way.
“The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” a play I did not like the first time I saw it, is presented in a way that mesmerized me, challenged me and opened my eyes to the power of superior acting, totally engrossing me in the action. And that is what good theatre is supposed to do.
Don’t miss Gamm’s final play of the season, which ends on June 2, if it is not held over as word of mouth is sure to spread. Tickets are $36 and $45, with discounts for students, seniors and groups. Call 723-4266 for reservations.