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‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ at Spotlighters Theatre

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The biggest question many theater goers will have leaving Beauty Queen of Leenane is “What is Complan?” Allow me to save you much speculating and googling, according to the Complan company website, “Complan is a tasty range of nutritional supplement drinks with protein, carbohydrate, and 26 vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins.” According to Mag Folan, played by the exceptional Valerie Lash, it might just be the worst form of torture known to man.

Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

The first five minutes of Martin McDonagh’s very dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane revolve around Irish matriarch, Mag Folan, getting a cup of Complan that is to her liking. Complan continues to feature heavily throughout the rest of the work. Most of Mag’s actions are driven by the desire to get a perfect cup of Complan, or at least, having one at had to complain about.

After a somewhat light-hearted opening (at least, comparatively), things grow darker. Neighbor, Ray Dooley (Mason A. Catharini), drops by the Folan family cottage with an invitation to a going-away party for some American cousins for Maureen (Kat McKerrow), her spinster daughter. When Mag is unable to recall the details of the party, Ray writes them down for her on a scrap of paper. After Ray leaves the Folan cottage, the paper is burned in the cottage’s peat burning stove.

Maureen arrives home, well aware of her mother’s duplicity, having bumped in to Ray on the road home. Maureen forces her mother to admit her misdeed and then, compels her mother to go into town with her to buy a new dress for the party. Maureen is intent looking good because she’s found out that Pato Dooley (Michael Page), Ray Dooley’s older brother and a former flame of hers will be there.

Maureen, wearing her new frock (which Mag thinks was far too expensive, for far too little fabric) departs for the party. When Maureen returns, she is accompanied by Pato. The next morning, when Mag discovers Pato has spent the night with Maureen (who is 40 years old, it should be mentioned); Mag grows angry because it has disrupted her morning routine. The discussion between Pato, Mag, and Maureen quickly sours and Mag begins spewing accusations.

Pato tells Maureen that he needs to leave, but promises to write. When the promised letter arrives, you can be sure it is not read by its intended recipient. Maureen and Mag’s vitriol and mutual hatred build until they reach a boiling point.In fact the fierce accusations and loud conversations become combustible. And through it all there is humor.

After witnessing her magnificent performance as Mag Folan, it is hard to believe that Valerie Lash was not the first choice for the role. Originally, the role belonged to Linda Kent who suffered an illness during Tech Week. Recasting the role of Mag caused the play’s opening to be delayed a week. The fact that Valerie Lash assumed the role in just week is astonishing and amazing.

Kat McKerrow’ (Maureen Folan). Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Kat McKerrow’ (Maureen Folan). Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Kat McKerrow’s turn as Maureen Folan was well done. McKerrow has a disturbing mastery of what is known colloquially as “crazy eyes.” These Irish eyes perhaps also serve as the shows best piece of foreshadowing. For such a small woman, her anger is both fierce and terrifying, even for those safely ensconced in the audience.

Both Mason Catharini and Michael Page make their debuts at Spotlighters in this production. One hopes to see more of both of them. Soon, you may be able to see Michael Page in the comfort of your living room; he’s been picked up by QVC.

The sound of rain is a near constant companion in The Beauty Queen of Leenane.The sound design of Heiko P. Speiker II meshes with Fuzz Roark’s lighting, to perfectly illustrate the desolate, isolated, dreary existence of Folan cottage’s occupants.

Alan Zemla’s quaint, country cottage set is very convincing. Either due to set design or sound design, the set appears to have a sink with a working drain. The pièce de résistance, though, is the peat-burning stove, into which an actually flaming piece of paper is flung. Everything from the crucifix on the wall, to the dishes in the kitchen enriches the depth of the set.

The costumes of The Beauty Queen of Leenane had a somewhat timeless look of disheveled apathy. The beaten and battered appearance of Maureen’s clothes especially screamed 90’s grunge in more authentic way than Nirvana ever could. Marie Bankerd and Kat McKerrow (who also played Maureen), expertly dressed each character in a way that looked like each character had dressed themselves.

Spotlighters’ The Beauty Queen of Leenane is filled with powerful performances. The show is not for the meek, but if you attend you will be taken on a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a ride worth taking.

In case you were wondering, yes, Complan does come in Tasty Chicken flavor.

Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes,with one 15 minute intermission.

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

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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