It’s a bleak life inside the small home that Maureen Folan and her mother, Mag, share in a small Irish village in Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty of Queen of Leenane,” which opened the new season at Venice Theatre’s Stage II series Thursday night in often gripping style.
Maureen feels that life is passing her by caring for someone who can’t even say “please” or “thank you,” and Mag worries that something or someone could come along to take her caregiver away. Mag is a bitter and manipulative old woman who relishes the moments when she can erase even a glimmer of happiness in her daughter’s life. By the time we meet them, Maureen is beyond fed up with caring for her mother. Even her sisters won’t see mom for more than a few hours once a year. Maureen works and comes home to one tirade or another.
It would be fascinating to explore their lives before the start of the play and how they got to this point, which might be another intriguing play. But I also suspect that is what director Kelly Wynn Woodland and her actors, Nancy Denton as Maureen and Lynne Buhle as Mag, did during their rehearsal process. We may not know the details, but we feel the tension in the air through the clipped conversations and the constant irritations that threaten to explode at any moment.
Denton and Buhle create believable characters, two women who have been at odds for years and are about to face their biggest challenge when Maureen gets invited to a farewell party that will reunite her with her neighbor Pato Dooley. As played by Rik Robertson, Pato is a big, bearish and caring man, who envisions a future with Maureen. But what would they do about mom, who manages to intercede at the worst possible moments? Pato becomes a ray of sunshine in Maureen’s life. But it’s a rainy country and that sun can’t stay out for long.
Jeremy Guerrero, who plays Pato’s impatient younger brother, Ray, is the comic relief of sorts. He can’t sit still, gossips about life in the village and is petulant to a degree when Mag asks him for something as simple as a cup of tea. But he’s also a key figure, conveying important information as the play develops.
It all moves effortlessly through its two acts on the plain but effective set designed by Donna Buckalter, with fine costumes by Chelsea Sorensen and effective lighting by Ryan Mueller.
In the small confines of the Pinkerton Theatre we almost feel like voyeurs, unable to turn away from this fascinating family dynamic.The actors do a fine job with their consistent and mostly understandable Irish accents (a few words here and there might need some thinking about). And Woodland brings a sense of normalcy on the edge to the production with a gentler, but still-impactful approach to some of the play’s more brutal confrontations.