By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
With Irish accents you could make a meal of, Lantern's production of Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, under director Kathryn MacMillan's sharp eye and steady hand, is an unqualified triumph.
Like all of McDonagh's early plays, Beauty Queen takes place in rural Ireland, and it is as much about the place as it is about the people who inhabit it: extreme personalities, desperate and needy, longing for escape, filled with spite. Often his characters are violent, stuffed with irrational self-justifications, and mostly these characters are men. Here the difference is the characters are women and they are locked in vicious combat. Another difference is that, unlike The Lieutenant of Inishmore , Lonesome West, or A Skull in Connamara, this play isn't funny.
Maureen (Megan Bellwoar) is forty; she is a dutiful, resentful daughter to Mag (Mary Martello) who is manipulative, selfish, complaining, and given to emptying her bedpan in the kitchen sink. When Pato (Charlie DelMarcelle) turns up and courts Maureen, the equilibrium of mutual loathing is knocked off kilter. Aided by the stupidity and pettiness of Pato's brother Ray (Sean Lally), things go downhill in appalling ways. The second act is a cascade of shocks (no spoilers).
The performances are perfectly nuanced; Bellwoar beautifully, delicately conveys the heartbreaking combination of resignation and sudden hope. Martello, hardly recognizable as the sexy diva we know, is mistress of the malevolent gaze, a dreadful lump in a rocking chair. And DelMarcelle's Pato is so charming, so sensible and kind that we hope, too.
And like the acting, the set (designed by Dirk Durossette) is perfectly detailed, from the famed photo of JFK to the crunch of gravel outside to the ancient iron stove. Perhaps most telling—almost a gloss on the play itself-- is the little embroidered motto hung on the wall: "May you have half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you're dead." Half an hour would be generous.
Don't miss this one.
Lantern Theatre at St. Stephen's, 10th & Ludlow. Through Feb.10 Tickets $30-38. Information: 215-829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org