Fascinating Modern Irish Drama, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” at Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Theater review and discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Gail M. Burns: The Beauty Queen of Leenane (pronounced leh-NAN) rocketed playwright Martin McDonagh to fame at age 25 when it opened in the West End in 1996.
Two years later he became the first playwright since William Shakespeare to have four of his plays produced professionally in his native London in a single season. While he has become known as a great Irish playwright, his knowledge of life in the rural parts of western Ireland about which he writes is based on recollections from summer vacations and the tales told by his Galway-born father. McDonagh is as English as they come.
Larry Murray: Well, you could have fooled me. All that Irish talk on stage was like watching actors speaking some sort of foreign patois. That word “Brogue” or accent comes from the Irish word, “barróg,” which means “accent” or “speech impediment,” you know. But I would call Martin McDonagh an Anglo-Irish playwright since, while he was brought up in the Irish section of London by Irish parents, he did return to the ould sod frequently during his life. More importantly, it is clear that he developed a love for the Irish form of story telling, and in The Beauty Queen of Leenane – which he says he wrote in a week and a half – he surely has a fascinating tale to tell, don’t you think?
Gail: Set in 1989 in the small village of Leenane in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, the play centers on the life of Maureen Folan, a 40-year-old virgin who is the sole caregiver to her 70 year-old mother, Mag. Two sisters have escaped into marriage and family life, but Maureen, with a history of mental illness, is trapped in a small, bleak cottage and in an overly dependent, seriously dysfunctional relationship with her mother.