Pictured: Kirsten Slenning and Tanja Dixon-Warren. Photo by Derek Fu.
It might be a little embarrassing for me to call myself a McDonagh fan after just one play and two movies, but I was still happy to add another to that list. I was especially excited because The Beauty Queen of Leenane is part of the Leenane trilogy along with A Skull in Connemara, and of course, The Lonesome West that I absolutely adore. (Review for Pacific Theatre’s production) Though the narratives are not directly related, the three plays are all set in the same town and the characters make references to the other plays,
This production of Beauty Queen, directed by Kathleen Duborg, was put on by not Pacific Theatre but as part of Ensemble Theatre Company’s 6th Annual Summer Repertory Festival. They also have Dark Road by Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson and A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin playing simultaneously as part of the festival. The Jericho Arts Centre was not difficult to find, but the summer heat was prominent in the small theatre. The air conditioner was very loud so it was off during the acts (at least, I think that’s the reason), making it a little difficult for me to keep still. (much respect to the actors who were wearing winter costumes)
Notable performances/design go to Tanja Dixon-Warren in the role of Mag and the set design by Stephanie Wong. She utilized the strange space well, with the backstage area and wings behind the house (there were some awkward walking across house right) and I will always be impressed with a sink with actual running water. The rest of the set was very homely and well decorated. Dixon-Warren’s (Mag) acting as a senile woman was quite believable down to the smallest details and habits (like scratching) and she delivered the jokes and lines very well. However, the banter and chemistry between her and Maureen (Kirsten Slenning) was a little off and the jokes didn’t land very well because the lines felt a little rushed.
As for McDonagh’s writing itself, I am starting to see a pattern within this trilogy- to which I really have zero complains. There’s what seems like a love-hate relationship and playful banter at first glance, but also an edge and spite hidden in the dialogue, the source of the dark comedy at this play’s core. Then the gruesome reason to why is revealed later in the second act. The fatigue of Maureen (Kirsten Slenning) from taking care of her mother Mag (Tanja Dixon-Warren) and feeling like it is the root of all her problems (especially her romantic life) is relatable to some degree (not all the way Maureen has taken it, yikes!) The twists were exciting and shocking, and they were well executed.
Overall, the “horrifyingly funny” play very close to the UBC campus is perfect for a night out. Funny, charming and yet disturbing The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a summertime must-see, especially if you are a fan of McDonagh and The Lonesome West.