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Beauty Queen of Leenane

By:Martin McDonagh
Director:Garry Hynes
Sets/Costumes:Francis O'Connor
Lighting:Ben Ormerod
Music:Paddy Cunneen
Opened:3/98 at the Walter Kerr Theatre
Cast:Anna Manahan, Marie Mullen, Tom Murphy and Brian F. O'Byrne

Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, a mere 27 years old, collected four Tony Awards for this disarming drama. It's about life in a bucolic Irish cottage shared by a hulking, aging mother and her 40-year-old virgin daughter. That said, the themes are what you'd imagine: oppression, power, quashed dreams. How McDonagh shapes his metaphors, though, is anything but expected; in fact, Leenane is a work of remarkable artistry and seamless craftsmanship.

Superbly cast, the play etches clear-cut, masterfully shaded characters. Mountainous Mag (Manahan), who puts the "mother" in "smother," and her spinster daughter Maureen (Mullen) verbally bat and scratch at each other, forever swapping the upper hand in a circular game of power. The dialogue is sharp yet spare, brutal yet comic, and never caroms into self-consciousness or contrivance. When the outside world crashes in courtesy of the Dooley brothers (Murphy and O'Byrne), the tempest brewing within these four walls threatens to obliterate everything in its path. Honest and emotionally-grueling, this saga posits McDonagh as one of contemporary theater's most formidable talents.

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