Theater Review: The Beauty Queen Of Leenane Brings Out The Ugliness Of Love At BAM

Marty Rea as Pato and Aisling O’Sullivan as Maureen photo by Stephen Cummiskey

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is currently playing at BAM Theater, and it is a horrifyingly hilarious play. Laced with wit so dry your laughs will fall like tumbleweeds, Ireland’s esteemed theater company, Druid, makes its BAM debut with this 20th anniversary revival of Martin McDonagh’s Tony Award-winning black comedy. Starring exceptional performances from Aisling O’ Sullivan as Maureen Folan and Marie Mulllen as Mag Folan, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a look into mother-daughter relationship that is anything but familial. 

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is driven dastardly theme on conditional love and if it can really exist. Maureen is forty years old and has been taking care of her elderly, “sickly” mother Mag for twenty years. O’ Sullivan plays Maureen as bitter as lemons. She drips sour devastation while she looks upon her life as a complete waste, in part, because of her mother Mag’s iron-clad clutch. Mullen will have audiences torn about Mag because it is her malice that makes her funny, which makes you the audience wonder about your own penchant for humor. Mag is cruel with her destruction of her daughter’s spirit. The brilliance of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane is that it is an extremely sad play whose sadism is veiled in quick sarcasm. It finds its life in the lack of life of its two leads, and if it were not from McDonagh’s intelligent writing one could get lost in the ensuing darkness that develops between Mag and Maureen. 

Ailsing O’Sullivan as Maureen Folan photo by Stephen Cummiskey

As the play progresses, what was once a draining relationship becomes a deranged one. Mag’s continuous sabotage of her daughter’s happiness and growth beyond her shadow leads Maureen, with her own history of mental illness, to become psychotic and murderous. Again. I cannot reiterate enough the radiance of O’Sullivan and Folan as a performing pair. You feel their characters’ exhaustion and depression like a laser beaming through your theater chair. There were several times when I wanted to get out of my seat, and say “Alright, you two! Separate!”. Yet, again, their hatred and vitriol for each other is like a factory of jokes that you feel guilty, especially in the second act, for enjoying its manufacturing. Still, you will flock to these two women like moths to an acting flame, and cry for two characters whom are the equivalent of misery and the faults of conditional love. 
Both women throw at each other everything they have done for and to the other. They are constantly reminding each other and themselves of sacrifices and struggles they have gone through for the other as acts of a love that you, as an audience member, wonder if it ever existed. When love is conditional can it truly be love? This virtue is limitless in feeling and what is causes people to do, think, and survive just to protect it. Through Maureen’s relationship with Pato Dooley (Marty Rea) you see the dreaminess of love and how it can be kind and make a person feel perseverant when it is felt, but dangerous when it is lost. Rea is sweet, charming, and gives plenty of reason as to why Maureen sees him as the center of her mindful escapism. For his instances on stage, he is like a generous breath of fresh air amongst the toxicity between Maureen and Mag, whom feel mutually abandoned with each other by the world, which leads to fatal dreams/actions. 
Marie Mullen as Mag Folan photo by Stephen Cummiskey
I love The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and it is a play that you appreciate more after its over because it gives you a wealth of discussion and analysis such as, sometimes, parents do not love their kids and vice versa, you can push a person into madness through your own meanness. and when you make someone else your happiness then you will never achieve it for yourself.  These are just a few lessons I learned in a play that was exceptionally designed by Francis O’Connor and directed by Garry Hynes. Both built a world that shows it is not the poverty and grunge of your surroundings that makes you poor, but the wickedness and coldness of your spirit. Poor is more than a class condition; it is a state of feeling and the story of Maureen and Mag Folan will teach you that. For More Information On The Beauty Queen Of Leenane Click Here.
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes – one 20 minute intermission 
Location: BAM Harvey Theater – 651 Fulton Street Brooklyn, NY 11217
Playing: January 5 to February 11