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 V.19 No.14 | April 8 - 14, 2010 

Performance Review

The Luck of the Irish

Mother Road’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Mag (Kathy Wimmer) shares her latest inspirational aphorism.
John Maio
Mag (Kathy Wimmer) shares her latest inspirational aphorism.

Ireland is a country of heartbreaking contrasts. Romanticized for its physical beauty and the humor of its people, it’s also marked by centuries of colonization and desperate poverty. In much of Irish literature, this seeming incongruity is expressed through characters who are both fiercely loyal to their home and who dream endlessly about leaving it.

Maureen (Julia Thudium) finally understands where the limerick “There once was a man from Nantucket” is heading.
John Maio
Maureen (Julia Thudium) finally understands where the limerick “There once was a man from Nantucket” is heading.

Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a study of such pairs. Set in the Irish village of Leenane, the play follows 40-year-old Maureen Folan (Julia Thudium) and her mother Mag (Kathy Wimmer). Mag and Maureen have lived together for what feels like lifetimes, locked into a nightmarish routine of servitude and small cruelties, as if they had pissed off the wrong Greek god.

The action opens on Mag, sunk low in her rocking chair. As realized by Wimmer, she’s an evil toad, sitting in a supposedly safe silence before unleashing her wicked, slashing tongue. The recipient of the bulk of these lacerations is her daughter, whom she relies upon to do everything, less out of need than stubborn manipulation. Mag, through decades of practice, has managed to make Maureen feel completely indispensable in their small home and utterly useless outside of it.

Mag and Maureen discuss the origins of the Russo-Japanese War.
John Maio
Mag and Maureen discuss the origins of the Russo-Japanese War.

But Maureen is no dainty specimen, either. She’s strong, bitingly funny and cruel enough herself. Maureen is aware of the horrid pointlessness of their situation but is too habituated to it to leave it. It’s the only home she knows.

Rounding out the cast is another pair, this one of two brothers: Pato (Morse Bicknell) and Ray Dooley (Quinn P. Rol). Ray is a young, wannabe hustler, a boy-man with dreams that involve big paydays and no work. Pato is older, Maureen’s age, back from his job in London for a visit. As Ray is part of their daily wallpaper, his presence only reinforces the dynamics of Mag and Maureen’s characters. But Pato, a new element, reveals aspects of each woman that were previously submerged. The revelation of these truths forces a reckoning.

But Maureen is no dainty specimen, either. She’s strong, bitingly funny and cruel enough herself. Maureen is aware of the horrid pointlessness of their situation but is too habituated to it to leave it. It’s the only home she knows.

McDonagh’s script is stunning—a contemporary piece with a classic feel reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill. But the choice by Mother Road Theatre Company to stage it raises a legitimate problem: accents. Irish accents. Sweet Mary and Joseph, a bad accent is a play-killer. Luckily, Maureen (the main character) is played by Thudium, who has the best accent of the bunch. But more than that, Thudium is a remarkably compelling presence who does some of her best acting in the silences. Her Maureen is a bundle of resentment, blackness, fragility and stupid hope—often all at once. Watching Thudium (Mother Road’s artistic director) handle the heavy job is a remarkable pleasure.

The other side of this Grey Gardens-like coin is Wimmer. Though her accent is less sure than Thudium’s (as if their characters are from different places), her realization of Mag is similarly exceptional. She flatters and cajoles, stomps and slithers. While this mother is as calculating as they come, Wimmer plays her with a tenderness that evokes a reluctant sympathy.

Along with Thudium (who has been too busy getting Mother Road off the ground to do any acting recently), the biggest revelation is Morse Bicknell’s Pato. The older Dooley is scripted to be likable, but in Bicknell’s hands, he’s irresistible. (So charming that someone broke into applause after a monologue—a theater no-no. There are also unconfirmed reports that a few crushes have been ignited.) Bicknell is a regular fixture in Albuquerque theater and is often quite good in small, supporting roles. Here, he’s something different. Though on opening night his accent started out only so-so, Bicknell forges an intricate and indelible performance.

Most everything in Mother Road’s production manages to be both organic and exact. The set design by director Vic Browder is smart, using a small space to create not just a sensible interior but also a sense of the world outside. The movement of Thudium, Wimmer and Bicknell is natural, which means it’s no doubt been relentlessly rehearsed. Quinn P. Rol as Roy, though, appears much greener than his cast mates, slamming about and delivering lines with a wink to the audience. To be fair, Rol is in weighty company and younger than the rest by at least 20 years. The high bar they set is one he doesn’t quite manage to reach, but it’s hard to think of better teachers than Browder and company.

It seems unfair that Mother Road produces only three productions a year, but this is probably why each piece is so good. It’s about time to shift the conversation from highlighting the quantity of theater in Albuquerque to discussing the quality. That’s the next step in creating a mature artistic community, and thankfully, we have Mother Road to help lead the way.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Runs through April 25
Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 6 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Filling Station
1024 Fourth Street SW
$16, reservations at 243-0596
motherroad.org
 

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