Before we get to the gritty details, let’s get right to the point: if you have a free night this weekend, you should be headed to Newark, Delaware, to see THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Chapel Street Players.
I think most of the audience expected the show to be a comedy (it isn’t, though it has some laughs). Director Sean Kelly actually manages to capture this expectation beautifully in the first scene, with its comical opening and highlighting the quick, dry humor between mother and daughter. What is even more delightful is how the play shifts, from dry laughs to discomfort so intense you must chuckle to relieve the tension, right up to its tragic conclusion.
Kerry Kristine McElrone as Maureen is gripping. The character sits on the edge of sanity, is cruel to her mother, and bitter with the world, and yet, somehow we love her and wish for her success. All other performers – Mary Catherine Kelley, David C. Hastings, and Patrick Cathcart – are well cast and solid performers as well.
The play itself fits well into the canon of post-Death of a Salesman, tragedy of and for the common man. And somehow, though very little changes over the course of the play, we see the tragedy of life as it is, and of failing to rise rather than a dramatic fall. Each scene pulls the story further and deeper, although (and this is my only major problem with this production) lengthy blackouts between scenes without set changes are a problem. The music played over the changes is lovely, but 30 second to 1 minute blackouts between scenes starts to feel like a commercial break, and by the end of the play members of the audience were making their displeasure with the changes vocal. This speaks to the strength of the production, and also to the desire of the audience to maintain their internal tension.
Design for the production is all lovely, especially the sound (by Mr. Kelly), which was delightfully subtle and simple, and the set, by a designer who apparently wishes to stay anonymous. Accents were excellent and only rarely slipped, and never interfered with the solid performances. The story is absorbing, the production faithful, and all in all, an excellent night at the theatre.
THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE
by Martin McDonaugh
Directed by Sean Kelly
Through November 19, 2011
Chapel Street Players
27 North Chapel Street
Newark, DE 19715