SALT LAKE CITY — Irish ballads played while I waited for the show, set in Galway, Ireland in the 1990s, to begin, and I greatly admired the native cobblestone walls of the house on Pinnacle Acting Company‘s set. Having been to Ireland myself, the atmosphere made me feel like I was there again witnessing the people’s lives play out. I appreciated the contrast on the set, done by Allen Smith, between old and new, with a fireplace next to a TV and a fridge and stove pushed against the stone wall. When it was rainy out in the play, water dripped down the window and people coming in had wet coats.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a beautiful and relatable story written by Martin McDonagh. The story is about Mag (played by Teresa Sanderson) who is 70 and wanting her daughter, Maureen (played by Melanie Nelson), to care for her every need. Maureen is less than excited to do anything for her grouchy mother and dreams of when her mother will finally die and Maureen can be free. Ray (played by Callahan R. Crnich) and his brother Pato (Nicholas Dunn) come in and out of the scenes in the women’s home, Ray coming from their childhood home a mile away, and Pato coming from England to visit home. Pato has a thing for Maureen, and she gloats about it to her mother, who tries to put an end to it.
The director, Jared Larkin, made this show easy to enjoy with the unpredictable blocking, especially with Crnich. Ray was all over the room, messing with many items and building me up into moments where I thought some danger would come. Nelson had very similar times, and I did see the foreshadowing to her choices at the end through her blocking. I loved the use of props, especially at the end when Crnich suddenly confronted Nelson with his tether ball when she was about to use the fire poker destructively; the moment was too hilarious.
Sanderson did an amazing job at playing a grouchy old woman pretending to be much more fragile and feeble than she was. At first I thought she wasn’t very good at playing as feeble as she was “supposed” to be, but then I realized she was faking it as her character and it fit perfectly. I appreciated that despite how mean and evil Mag seemed, I still felt for her not getting her need for love, care, and significance. Mag worked hard just to get those needs partially met, making Maureen’s life miserable in the process.
Dunn’s character was a lovable, not shying away from his girl when he learns about her darker past. Despite being so charismatic, Pato’s weaknesses is not following up on the letter even though he was careful to make sure Maureen got it. His jump to getting with another girl so soon after led me to think he wouldn’t have been the best boyfriend either, once Maureen got to know him. Pato was a great contrast to the other three characters, because he came off so relaxed about life when the other three characters were much more emotionally intense. It was a great contrast, and Dunn played it well.
Nelson was amazing at everything she did. I was astounded to see how the contrast between Maureen’s home self and her going out self could be so different. Nelson was also able to portray the swinging pendulum between not caring and feeling doomed and depressed with her character at the very end. It was such a stark contrast in such a short time period that I am impressed Nelson could pull it off. Maureen had moments before the end that hinted toward the shift in her character, like when she offered to get her mom a Kimberly cracker and simultaneously gave her a treat while admitting she bought it on purpose because her mother didn’t like it. Their relationship was rough.
McDonagh’s script was very moving. I felt for the plight of Maureen having given 20 years of her life to the care of a spiteful mother, and sympathized with her choices that would normally be seen as evil. I also wished there were some outside force to make everyone’s lives happier. It made me wonder why humanity gets so stuck in these grooves of harsh reality. The only character that had some kind of bright future was Pato, and he was the only one who didn’t get angry at anything and who seemed reasonable throughout the show. It was difficult to see people living in a place that I consider paradise and that I would love to move to could be so unhappy about it and about the beauty there. There wasn’t much gratitude among the three characters, Mag, Maureen, and Ray.
Normally for plays like this, I wouldn’t invite someone to come with me because of how intense it can be and because I hate to bum out someone I care for, but this play is a great work of art. I wish I had brought a friend along. There is so much to mull over after seeing this show, and it left me with a feeling of loneliness and desire to connect more with people. It is more difficult to see each other in person now, making life more about getting stuff done and doing business rather than opening up to who we are and sharing ourselves. This show starkly expresses our human need to connect, how the ability to connect has been dwindling with the years, and how devastating the effect of not getting that need met is. The play is well worth a see.