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Family quarrels have teeth in ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’

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Woodhead, Weller and Mullaney in The Beauty Queen of Leeane.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore
Jacob Coakley

You think you have a tough parent? Try being Maureen Folan in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Intimidated and berated by her overbearing mother, Mag, Maureen fights to gain her own life against an enemy who knows all her weaknesses—and isn’t afraid to exploit them all to keep her edge.

“They fight over everything—the porridge they eat, whether to turn on the radio, how high to turn it—but it’s not about those things; it’s about power and dominance and gloating,” says Ann Marie Pereth, who’s directing Beauty Queen for A Public Fit, beginning February 17 at the Usual Place.

Now bring a man into the situation, a man who could be Maureen’s last chance to get out, and things can get ugly. They do, with a harrowing confrontation involving a hot stove and oil heated until it’s sizzling. “McDonagh has no apprehension for violence onstage,” says Pereth, who admits that she has little stomach for the violence—but intense interest in the motivations behind it. “It’s not the oil burning I was attracted to in the play; it was the tensions. The sizzling of the oil on the stove—when it starts to pop, right in front of you, it’s terrifying. And that interests me. I was a psych major before I switched to theater. I love examining the motives of people and what makes them tick. We’ve spent hours and hours trying to decide the right tone in terms of the choices she makes. Because if you look at it through one lens, this woman is a psychopath—but she’s not a psychopath.”

Playing the mother and daughter are Joan Mullaney and Mindy Woodhead, respectively, with Darren Weller and Mike Rasmussen rounding out the cast—all working to lay the battle grounds. “They’re all so frickin’ talented,” gushes Pereth, who pressed them all to move beyond their comfort zones to follow the twists and turns of the play.

“In the beginning of the play, we have a tendency to be very judgmental of the mother,” Pereth says. “By the end of the play you don’t know who to side with, because the thing is such a hot mess that you don’t know who’s most at fault. It’s not so black and white.”

The Beauty Queen of Leenane February 17-March 5, times vary, $20-$25. The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway, 702-735-2114.

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