Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

TheatreBloom rating:

Aye, if ye be in the mood for a poitìn bit o’ good theatre, ‘specially the dark and funny like— now mind you, not the haha out loud sort o’ funny, but the ‘oh…’ sort o’ funny— then The Spotlighters is the place to be goin’. Though bundle up, ye’ll be needin’ th’ heat once ya’ get there. Despite several setbacks, the Martin McDonagh black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane carries on upon the stage-in-the-square with a vigorous shake that’ll light a fire in your belly. And possibly up your arse if you’re not careful. Directed by Lance Bankerd, this darkly twisted installment in the Leenane Trilogy will tickle a warped sense of humor in your mind or frighten you out of what wits you have left; or both, with its sensational female leads and superior scenic decorations.

Kat McKerrow as Maureen Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Kat McKerrow as Maureen Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

Marie Bankerd and Kat McKerrow team up as the show’s Costume Designers, creating the authentic chill of Ireland right into the stitchery. The thick wool sweaters look cozily warm and the colors are appropriately frumpy for Maureen’s character. Bankerd and McKerrow pay close attention to detail; proper mucking boots for the rain and little soft shoes for inside the house. But it’s the getup they concoct for Mag, the elderly nuisance in the house, that really makes their efforts worth commending. The cotton nightgown, layered under the house duster but still slightly visible, with the heavy sweater; all complimented by the thick socks, under-stockings, and pair of worn old house slippers to create the perfect barmy old lady look.

Sound Designer Heiko Spieker II brings the audience to Ireland with minimal effort. Jaunty jigs pre-show entices the atmosphere into place. Spieker’s lilting Irish soundtrack rolls the transitory scene changes along fluidly; a clipping pace a bit like a babbling brook that might cut across the rolling moors. It’s his rain sound effects that penetrate through the cottage roof; authentic and realistic in calling forth to mind the fact that they do live in Ireland.

Valerie Lash as Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Valerie Lash as Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

Scenic Artist Alan Zemla has outdone himself with rustic charm when it comes to the interior of the Folan household. Never one to skimp on detail, Zemla has carved out distinctive spaces of the house across the stage and into the corners of the theatre. The asymmetric cobblestone of the wall near the relic of a fireplace, the cluttered shelves and derelict shape of the pantry; all elements of his quaint well lived-in homelike aesthetic. Zemla creates a charming hovel amid the dreary circumstances; perfect for the emotional upheaval experienced throughout the performance. The notes of realistic functionality should be praised as well; a proper draining sink and real Kimberly biscuits for the shelf.

Ray Dooley (L- Mason Catharini) and Mag Folan (R- Valerie Lash) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Ray Dooley (L- Mason Catharini) and Mag Folan (R- Valerie Lash) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

Director Lance Bankerd drives the pacing of this dark comedy. The scenes erupt quickly and unexpectedly but without the feeling of being rushed or hurried through. His ease of blocking the actors in Zemla’s quaint household setting shows through in the natural movement of the scenes. Bankerd works the unique stage spacing to the show’s advantage creating an immersive experience as the audience ends up being seating amid the various rooms of the house.

Maureen Folan (L- Kat McKerrow) and Ray Dooley (R- Mason Catharini) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Maureen Folan (L- Kat McKerrow) and Ray Dooley (R- Mason Catharini) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

Cameo character Ray Dooley (Mason Catharini) is worth his weight in salted potatoes for all the Irish charm he brings to the Folan household. Catharini works the thug angle, between his racer-stripe tracksuit and gold chain necklace. With a fidgety energy coursing through him, Catharini lets the character’s agitation sweep through his scenes with power. Though only popping in thrice, his presence is a bit like a weather phenomenon to the stage; well recognized and well remembered. And his accent is solid, unwavering and true to the jumped-up violence junky that his character is.

Mag (L- Valerie Lash) and Maureen (R- Kat McKerrow) Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Mag (L- Valerie Lash) and Maureen (R- Kat McKerrow) Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

Mag Folan (Valerie Lash) is little more than a dotty old pain in the arse. Lash’s approach to the character is stellar, giving her depth and a rich dichotomy to draw forth pity and sympathy from the audience to her wretched plight. The makeup pounded on Lash for aging her up and frumping her down is astonishing, making her look like the salt of the riverbed. The blistering makeup on her hand in particular is top notch and deliciously revolting. Lash’s commitment to the fully developing the character is impressive. A mincing shuffle to dodge about the room when no one’s watching, an unsteady gait up on her feet when she plays up her weakened state of existence. The rolling Irish accent is thick but articulate, steeped in pride of her character’s Irish roots.

Valerie Lash as Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Valerie Lash as Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

Lash creates caustic chemistry with Kat McKerrow, playing Mag’s daughter, Maureen. The pair bite and stab and bash at each other with visceral abandon, desperately trying to peg the other down beneath the muddy toe of their boot. The believability of animosity between them is haunting; complete new meaning to the phrase “no love lost between them” comes to mind in their on-stage relationship. It’s the violent scenes that really raise the hairs at the back of your neck; be it the verbal attacks or the physical ones, especially one Lash lets loose her unearthly howls of pain in the middle of Act II.

Kat McKerrow as Maureen Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Kat McKerrow as Maureen Folan in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

McKerrow is truly frightening in the role. With intense eyes that deliver more than just a hint of being touched, she boils over from furious frustrations into abusive anger in just the snap of a second. Creating a dynamic portrayal much like Lash does with Mag, McKerrow exposes a vulnerable side of Maureen during a confession scene with Pato (Michael Page.) The rocking in her body combined with the slumped physique, crossed legs and pitiful plea in her voice make this moment as harrowingly pitiable as when Lash’s character is trembling on the floor crying out for help.

Both women have a severe driving intensity that make their scenes, whether they are barbing with one another or involved with the other two performers in the production, truly striking. Their stage presences alone command the attention of the audience, and when they take the stage together it’s a terrifying yet mesmerizing experience. A remarkable performance from both Lash and McKerrow, carrying this deeply dark and sinister story to a drastically shocking conclusion.  

Ray Dooley (L- Mason Catharini) and Maureen Folan (R- Kat McKerrow) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters TheatreCMAldridgePhotography
Ray Dooley (L- Mason Catharini) and Maureen Folan (R- Kat McKerrow) in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Spotlighters Theatre

May ya’ be half an hour in heaven afore the devil knows yer dead. At least, it’ll feel like heaven, mostly, by the time this show is through. If you can manage to survive everything that happens inside the Folan household. And of course, survive eating the Kimberly biscuits.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission

The Beauty Queen of Leenane plays through March 15, 2015 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 N. Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.


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