An Intense and Bleakly Funny Experience from Backyard Renaissance

Deborah Gilmour Smyth and Jessica John (photos courtesy of Daren Scott).

Deborah Gilmour Smyth and Jessica John (photos courtesy of Daren Scott).

For several decades, Martin McDonagh has garnered a lot of attention for his dark work as a playwright and a filmmaker/screenwriter. His sense of humor and handling of tough subject matter is evident in his 1996 play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

McDonagh’s show is currently receiving a first-rate production from Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company.

Taking place in “Connemara, Galway in the west of Ireland” during 1995, a lonely daughter, Maureen Folan (Jessica John) looks after her dependent mother, Mag (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) in a tiny home (Tony Cucuzzella’s standout set is purposefully unglamorous).

Both treat each other poorly with Maureen no stranger to verbal threats, and Mag negatively gets in the way of her daughter’s happiness. Some potential hope for Maureen comes when she reunites with an acquaintance she is attracted to, Pato Dooley (MJ Sieber).

Those who have seen McDonagh’s big screen work including “In Bruges” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” ought to know what to expect with the tone of this story. There are scenes that veer from hilarious to grim and back again within the span of minutes.

Act One showcases tough exchanges between the Folan family members, and Act Two becomes more suspenseful as their lives begin to unravel.

The second act takes such big bleak swings, that theatregoers need to reflect on what they have seen when leaving the strong staging at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center. The biggest example does contain spoilers, although I will do my best not to give away specific details.

After a shocking climax, it almost feels like the drama is concluding, before the epilogue occurs. Initially, I was unsure how I felt about the ending, yet it has grown on me since it ties into the theme of karmic retribution and the price one pays for committing cruel deeds.

A fair word of warning is that the second half contains violent content that is difficult to watch. However, it is only a few moments of a 130-minute show, so I would not discourage sensitive members to miss out on Artistic Director, Francis Gercke’s, haunting production.

Nick Daugherty.

Nick Daugherty.

Gercke memorably showcases seemingly mundane days between Maureen and Mag, and slowly reveals the sinister toxic connection they share. He keeps audiences guessing as to whether their relationship can grow, or significantly decline over time.

As the central characters, John and Smyth are perfectly matched with performances that are raw, funny, and disturbing. They richly portray the deeply flawed duo.

Providing plenty of comic relief are Sieber and Nick Daughterty, as Pato’s immature cousin, Ray. Their appearances often provide welcomed breathers from anxiety-inducing segments of the evening.

You might need time to process the harshness of The Beauty Queen…, but it is undeniably a great play with phenomenal acting and direction from Gercke. This should be seen by adults who want to experience a challenging, thought-provking, and intense piece of theatre.

Show times are tonight at 7:30 p.m, Thursday (July 11) at 7:30 p.m, Friday (July 12) at 7:30 p.m, Saturdays at 7:00 p.m, Sunday (July 7) at 3:00 p.m, and Monday (July 8) at 7:00 p.m.

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Photo of Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company
Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company
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