Wallflowers need not apply

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Bradley Campbell
The Gallery Players
199 14th St., Park Slope (718/595-0547)
Equity showcase (Closes Mar. 9)
Review by Ken Jaworowski

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is the theatrical equivalent of a playground seesaw. In Martin McDonagh's script, comedy and tragedy alternate nearly every line, bouncing the audience up with raucous laughter before crashing them down with morbid sadness. When skillfully done, the play should leave the viewer winded with emotion.

While the Gallery Players offered a serviceable telling of the tale, only rarely did the play come off laugh-out-loud funny or pitifully morose; instead of jolting the audience through a range of contradictory feelings, the production seemed content to rest at a tame equilibrium. Worth watching? Sure. Exhilarating? Not quite.

In the play, 40-year-old Maureen slogs through her days, trapped in a dingy house in Ireland with her disagreeable mother Mag. The two spend their energies sniping at each other, an Irish Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? between parent and child. Maureen finds hope of escaping the small town after meeting Pato, a would-be suitor. Her budding romance heightens the tension between mother and daughter and sets the groundwork for hilarious exchanges and mortifying plot twists.

Though most of the cast was game, Bradley Campbell's direction took a timid approach that did very little to punctuate the conversations or highlight the absurdity of the situations. Quite simply, the production forgot to have fun -- the frequent sight gags were downplayed, and the sharp dialog came across dulled. On the other hand, Todd Reemtsma's set -- a confining Irish household on one side of the stage, an expanse of open air and hills on the other -- was top-quality and displayed an understanding of the duality of the script.

As Maureen, Janet Dunson well conjured a hurt, irritable woman confronting a dismal future, while Dolores Kenan, as Mag, was a spiteful yet amusing meddler, if somewhat less than crabby. David Keller was delightful as the baffled, love-smitten Pato. But Garry Burgoyne, as Pato's brother Ray, remained too subdued. In a part written to be performed full-throttle, his Ray remained a lackluster, secondhand character rather than a restless, loud-mouthed comic foil.

In a sense, the Gallery Players were a victim of their own recent successes. With this season's stellar productions of Fuddy Meers and Deathtrap, they set themselves an incredibly high standard. The Beauty Queen of Leenane didn't live up to that standard, though it still featured enough talent to make the evening worthwhile. While not a belle of the ball, this Beauty was at least a decent runner-up.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Ken Jaworowski