Surprising Beauty

Tuesday November 23, 99
by Dalt Wonk, Gambit Weekly

Surprising Beauty

by Dalt Wonk

There is something in human nature (in my nature, at least) that tends to the "jaded." I was astonished when I read my first Latin American novel. Later, I learned there was a name for this astonishment: magic realism. I read a second novel. Fascinating. By the time I picked up a third novel, I thought, "Oh, more magic realism."

Of course, the phrase "oh, more..." is open to infinite categories. And I must confess that The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, by an Irishman named Martin McDonagh, called up this sort of jaded prejudice in my mind - evoking a genre that might be called "blarney under thatch."

Until I saw it. If you also suffer from this sort of jadedness, put aside your fears and hurry down to the refurbished, revitalized True Brew Theatre. For Beauty Queen - in Perry Martin's excellent production - is anything but predictable. In fact, what at first seems like a slice-of-life drama soon leaves you dazzled by its ingeniously deceptive narrative.

It would be unfair to spoil the thrill of discovery for anyone unacquainted with the story, so I will forgo any plot synopsis and limit myself to commenting on the economy of the writing, which is truly impressive - not simply because the play is not wordy, but because seemingly random thoughts and images in the dialogue reverberate later with strange new significance as the story unfolds.

The cast at True Brew is first rate. Charlotte Schully turns in an exhilarating, finely tuned and uncompromising performance as a spiteful old matriarch - an octogenarian villain who would win a gasp of admiring terror from Machiavelli. Janet Shea captures the ambivalence, longings, and resentments of her lonely, damaged caretaker of a daughter. Michael Cahill gives the daughter's suitor a basic decency and a diffident charm, while Barret O'Brien as the suitor's brother exudes a sense of dissatisfied, youthful energy - trapped in the dullness of country life.

As the mother and daughter's doomed folie-a-deux zig-zags toward the abyss, the show unexpectedly takes on the suspense of a thriller, for our confident expectations go awry and we realize we have no idea how the tale will end. Lance Spellerberg designed the effective set for this little gem.


Maureen (Janet Shea) puts up with her domineering mother, Mag (Charlotte Schully) in Perry Martin's excellent True Brew production of The Beauty Queen Of Leenane.