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The Beauty Queen of Leenane is an intimate look at the dysfunctional balance between co-dependence and self-interest in the relationship between a daughter (in her 40s) and mother (just turned 70) who have lived together in an isolated Irish house for 20 years. The play’s events unfold over a short period of time and are sparked by a rare romantic opportunity for the daughter.
It is suggested that both of the characters have struggled with mental illness, although the credibility of this is questionable as it is something that each of the women says of the other, and the play proves both women are capable of lying. Kirsten Slenning’s portrayal of the daughter and Tanja Dixon-Warren’s of the mother are masterful. Their characters have an ambiguous credibility when switching between displays of strength and vulnerability, that made it hard to read when the characters were affecting behaviours or being genuine with one another. It kept the audience guessing their true motives and true potential to great success.
The unchanging, well-used set pieces are the perfect backdrop for the familiar yet unstable relationship between the house’s inhabitants. The stage is full of furniture yet does not feel cluttered or crowded. It is only once the characters’ movements, emotions, and histories infuse the space that the house begins to feel stifling and unable to accommodate these two women. A sense of confinement became palpable in the second half, and the production had a tone of restlessness, which I found contagious; I knew I was waiting for something to happen next, but I just couldn’t foresee how the play would end.
Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs at the Jericho Arts Centre until August 15.
Missed the Mark for Sonja:
~ reviewed by Sonja Cvoric
A form of foreshadowing. If an object is introduced early on in the play, it will make a necessary (and usually dramatic) reappearance later in the play. The 19th Century playwright, Anton Chekhov used this technique to great effect in one of his plays where a gun is shown in the first act, and fired by the end, hence the name for this technique.
We'd love to hear from you!
Please comment on the review, the show if you see it, or pick from one of the following conversation starters:
1. How do you think your relationship with your mother would (d)evolve over time if you shared a small house in an isolated neighbourhood for twenty years? (Now imagine this with no internet.)
2. What are some of the best (and worst) things your mom has to say about you?
2a. What about what you have to say about your mom?
2b. Has this been consistent or changed over time?
Hi, theatre addicts. My name is Sonja Cvoric and I'll be sharing my thoughts on The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which is playing at Jericho Arts Centre, this beautiful little gem behind me in West Point Grey. It's a stone's throw away from Locarno Beach, Jericho Beach, and this week, the Folk Festival which is happening nearby, so it's a lovely way to wrap up a sunny summer Saturday in Vancouver.
TIMESTAMP 00:28 ENSEMBLE THEATRE REPERTORY FESTIVAL
This performance is put on by the Ensemble Theatre Company as part of their annual summer Repertory Festival. This is the sixth year they're doing this festival and, as part of the festival, they do three plays in one month, running from around mid-July to mid-August.
TIMESTAMP 00:48 MARTIN MCDONAGH
This year, one of the plays they're doing is The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which is written by an Irish-English playwright and film director called Martin McDonagh. I've seen some of his movies in the past and I've seen and read some of his plays. Not this particular one. He has a very dark humour. He puts his characters in intense situations, but still manages to find a way to make the audience laugh in moments. Me, anyway.
So I'm excited to see this performance. I've seen the Ensemble Theatre put on another one of his plays a couple of years ago called The Cripple of Inishmaan and both of these plays, from what I understand, take place in small town Ireland. This particular play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, is about the relationship between a 40 year-old woman and her mother in small town Ireland. I'm particularly excited this evening to be seeing this play with my mom and we'll see what we think of it. So, we'll head on inside and we're looking forward to the show.
TIMESTAMP 01:55 INTERMISSION IMPRESSIONS
It's currently intermission and I'm trying to start organizing some preliminary thoughts, although I'm not sure what I think yet. Excellent direction. Excellent staging. Excellent set. Costume design is on point. Acting is phenomenal, especially for our lead actresses, Tanja Dixon-Warren, playing Mag, the mom, and Kirsten Slenning, playing Maureen, the daughter. So far, very different relationship than I have with my mom being shown on stage but, then again, I'm not in my 40s, so who knows? Things may change.
What we've seen so far is a very challenging, toxic, dysfunctional relationship and I'm very curious to see how this could possibly end, what kind of timeline is going to be in the second intermission. Does it take off exactly from where we left off, or does it jump forward in the future? If it does jump in the future, how far forward? Because I don't know how much longer they can handle each other but, apparently, they've been doing it for 20 years and I really do wonder if things have progressed and gotten worse or if this is just more of the same for them. I'm very curious to see how this will end. Excellent performance so far, if a little bit of a troubling storyline. But relatable in bits.
The relationship between the mother and daughter compared to my relationship with my mother ... Pretty toxic. We'll see how this will end.
TIMESTAMP 03:28 ADDRESSING EXPECTATIONS
Back home from the play and I've had a chance to digest some of what I've seen, so here's some more details on my thoughts and impressions of The Beauty Queen of Leenane performed by the Ensemble Theatre. I did see a performance that they had done of another Martin McDonagh play a couple years ago and I thought that they'd done an expert job. They'd made some really tough matter, tough subject matter fairly relatable and they'd tackled the small town Irish city feel really well, so I had super high expectations coming into this play.
TIMESTAMP 04:04 THE SET
One of my favourite things about the play was the set. It was really evocative of a small town Irish house and it made the audience - me, anyway - really feel like I was in this house with these characters, experiencing this drama. Really close-up, really intimate. It was a really full set. There was a lot of set pieces to kind of show the main floor of the household, living room, kitchen, dining room area, but even with all of this stuff on stage, it didn't feel cluttered. It just felt believable and totally sucked me in. I felt like I was right there next to these characters, watching this stuff happen. The set seemed very 70s, a little bit older. Some of the stuff was kind of shabby. Again, IT only helped to make things convincing.
TIMESTAMP 04:57 PROPS
I loved the moment ... There was a bit of a Chekhov's gun situation in this play with a poker, where the poker stick was shown retrospectively after some of the action had happened, I guess, "off-screen", off-stage. Well done, props person, Josina de Bree. Very well done scenic design by Stephanie Wong and costume design by Julie White.
TIMESTAMP 05:24 CHARACTERS AND PERFORMANCES
As mentioned earlier, Mag, the mother, was played by Tanja Dixon-Warren and Maureen, the daughter, played by Kirsten Slenning. We also have two male characters in this production, Pato, played by Ashley O'Connell, and his brother, Ray, played by Francis Winter, and I thought the two brothers were an interesting foil, but sometimes comparison and parallel for this mother-daughter relationship going on.
I didn't really talk about the male performances during the intermission. They were crucial to the plot, but I wasn't overly impressed. In the second half of the play, though, it really picks up. Pato's character especially has an amazing monologue and that was very well-delivered. I really like that monologue.
TIMESTAMP 06:16 IRISH ACCENTS
Also really convincing were the Irish accents. I really felt like I was in Ireland. I am not Irish, so I can't really speak to the authenticity from that point of view, but to someone from Canada, it did feel super convincing.
TIMESTAMP 06:32 CLOSING REMARKS
The Beauty Queen of Leenane was directed by Kathleen Duborg and totally, hands down, a hundred percent met my expectations. I was super excited for the play and I left a little put down by the story line, but excited by how well it was performed.
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