A Royal Mess

Flimsy characters make this Beauty Queen a loser

Raised in England by Irish-born parents, McDonagh got most of the material for the play from his periodic visits to Ireland. His use of diction, cadence, and colloquial expressions reveals his adept flair for the vernacular. The script is thoroughly riddled with Irish dialect, such as "feck" and "shite." The men manage the accent quite well but the actresses do not. When it comes to accents, actors don't necessarily need to fool a native speaker but should at least sound convincing to nonnatives. Maureen and Mag's accents are quite transparent and at times distracting.

Tim Bennett's set adequately depicts the dreary cottage, but the author's choice never to change or even vary the set paralyzes the drama even further. Except when Mag is in her rocking chair (which takes on a double meaning at the end) and Maureen is at her stove, neither character interacts with her surroundings in any meaningful way. A little room off to the side where we could see Maureen alone, for example, might have been an interesting vehicle for getting to know her better. Although this pair has lived a lifetime in one dingy space, that space doesn't seem like a home -- even a dysfunctional one. In the second act, when Pato writes Maureen a letter from England, we find him sitting in the same cottage kitchen; the whistle of a passing train is supposed to transport us to his flat in London. Well, it doesn't. The stage designer could have, at the very least, dropped the curtain to release us even momentarily from the drab kitchen.

The nagging Mag (Virginia Light) and an okay fellow called Ray (Liam Christopher O'Brien)
The nagging Mag (Virginia Light) and an okay fellow called Ray (Liam Christopher O'Brien)

The Beauty Queen of Leenane does manage a few moments of dark comedy. It would have been nice to see the script reach some of the dramatic potential that the situation holds -- a reminder that plot does not drive tragedy, character does. The more we have invested in a character, the more his or her tragedy moves us.

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