REVIEW: The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Shattered Globe)

     
     

Shattered Globe is back, better than ever

     
     

Linda Reiter (Mag) and Eileen Niccolai (Maureen) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.  Photo Credit: Kevin Viol

      
Shattered Globe Theatre presents
   
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
  
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by
Steve Scott
at the
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
through Feb 27  | 
tickets: $25 – $32  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

In The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Martin McDonagh has crafted one of drama’s greatest monster mothers, a matriarch of such suffocating dominance and staggering selfishness that she almost makes Medea look like June Cleaver. At least Medea had decency to put her children out of their misery at a fairly young age. Mag Folan, by contrast, seems to live solely to make her grown daughter Maureen’s life as close to hell on earth as one can get. It’s no wonder things get blisteringly, destructively hot in the Folan kitchen by the shocking finale of McDonagh’s tragic-comedy.

With a pair of intensely complex roles for women whose ingénue days are well behind them, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is an excellent vehicle to usher in the rebirth of Shattered Globe to the Chicago theater scene. One of the most dismaying arts stories of 2010 came with the announcement that the off-Loop powerhouse was disbanding. The dissolution surely wasn’t for lack of talent – with shows including Requiem for a Heavyweight (our review ★★★★) and Suddenly Last Summer (review ★★★★) and Days of Wine and Roses, the company consistently delivered dramatic riches.

Joseph Wiens (Pato) and Eileen Niccolai (Maureen) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Photo Credit: Kevin ViolMany of Shattered Globe’s best productions were anchored by the team of Linda Reiter and Eileen Niccolai, whose reunion as (respectively) mother Mag and daughter Maureen is reason for a bit of post-holiday rejoicing.

As stories of survival and sanity go, Beauty Queen’s a corker. And just when you think McDonagh has shown the plot’s full hand, the tale takes a twist that’ll stand the hair on the back of your neck on end. In those final moments, key events are called into tantalizing question, and the foundation of what you thought to be true turns out to be no firmer than shifting quicksand.

Equally disconcerting is the sudden, scary revelation McDonagh implies about the stranglehold the twin hands of fate and genetics can have on society’s most economically and emotionally vulnerable. The rich and the strong may have the means to escape heredity and circumstance. The poor and the fragile get crushed by them.

Director Steve Scott keeps a nicely controlled rein on the storytelling here: Less is infinitely more as Niccolai’s Maureen simmers in a slow but inexorable burn toward an explosion of rage. Under the ruthlessly demanding edicts of her mother, Maureen moves with precise control but has the wild-eyed, feral look of a fox desperate enough to chew off its own leg to escape the trap it is entangled in. As Mag, Reiter scrunches her face into a permanent gargoyle grimace, making the character both monstrous and pathetic – and making Maureen’s plight all the more untenable. Something has to give between mother and daughter before the last scene, and so it does, with all the violence and horror one expects from a McDonagh play.

     
Joseph Wiens (Pato) and Linda Reiter (Mag) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.  Photo Credit: Kevin Viol. Linda Reiter (Mag) and Eileen Niccolai (Maureen) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.  Photo Credit: Kevin Viol

Of course, Beauty Queen wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if it was a relentless grimfest. There’s more than a little humor threaded through McDonagh’s text – although humor of the dangling gallows variety to be sure. The cast is mostly up to the demands of the script, from its bleakly absurdist lighter moments to the irrevocable tragedy of its darker ones.

As Pato, the loving young man who represents Maureen’s only chance of escape, Joseph Wiens provides the narrative’s tender moments, portraying just the sort of gentle, understated and stout-hearted hero one suspects could heal Maureen’s deepest wounds. As Pato’s brother, Kevin Viol was a bit too tightly wound at the production’s final preview. Hopefully, his exaggerated jitteriness will lessen as the run continues.

Here’s hoping that run is long and prosperous for Shattered Globe, and that many more SG seasons are in store.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Kevin Viol (Ray) and  Eileen Niccolai (Maureen) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane running through February 27, 2011, at the Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 2, 2936 N. Southport in Chicago. Photo Credit: Roger Smart

     
     

Review: Shattered Globe’s “Buried Child”

Shepherd’s critique of shattered American dreams connects to a bleak reality many of us have glimpsed.

 

 

Buried Child
by Sam Shepherd
Shattered Globe Theatre

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Sam Shepherd wrote Buried Child, his ode to the tarnished American dream, in 1978, tapping inspiration from an America disillusioned from a soul-crushing war and economic stagflation. Now, as perpetual war and economic crisis frustrates our own era, Shattered Globe Theatre has revisited Shepherd’s Midwestern epic.

Director Steve Scott  focuses on elucidating the rifting generations in this eulogy for the modern American family unit. Three generations, spanning the 20th Century experience, inhabit the decrepit central Illinois house. Dodge and Halie (a cranky Maury Cooper and caustic Linda Reiter) come from an obsolete agriculture past. Their sons, Bradley and Tilden (Greg Kopp and Gerrit O’Neill), are emotionally and physically handicapped, matching their 1970’s America, nearly a decade after the counterculture revolution came to an abrupt end. Finally, the generation that ushered in punk rock and is represented by Tilden’s son, Vince (David Dastmalchian), and his girlfriend Shelly (Helen Sadler). The play begins with Vince swinging by his grandparents’ house after six years; instead of a fun family reunion, he is baffled because no one, not even his own father, recognizes him.

In Shattered Globe Theatre's "Buried Child", Shepherd’s critique of shattered American dreams connects to a bleak reality many of us have glimpsed. The depiction of this Illinois family just becomes more twisted as the play goes on. With her first glance of the house, Shelley likens it to a Norman Rockwell painting. As evidence of rape, incest, and murder bubble to the surface, any down-home feeling attached to the house quickly dissipates. Themes of family and heritage abound in the play, especially in a ghoulish image that several characters witness—glimpsing a face within a face. Like the splitting generations, Scott punches up these themes, and the play takes on an eerie, nearly Biblical feel.

Kevin Hagan encapsulates this epic mood with his dilapidated set. The world is a fusion of prosperity and poverty, ancient and modern, pride and shame. A static-y television sputters nonsense in front of a torn Second Empire style-sofa. The set also radiates a royal aura: Halie slowly walks down the stairs praising her favorite but deceased son, reeking of Classical Greek tragedy.

Thematically-speaking, some of the performances aren’t in line with the rest of the production, however. Cooper’s Dodge is too much ornery, embittered old man and not enough fallen patriarch. His moments of despair and impassioned anger are still powerful, but they lose teeth because Cooper pushes the humor of the script too far. Kopp has a difficult time balancing his characterization of the one-legged Bradley. He can find Bradley’s imposing, predator side but can’t quite find the infantile counterpoint once his leg is stolen. Sadler’s Shelley is another weaker performance, turning out a bit too annoying.

maurylindaandgerrit-400x266Dastmalachian’s Vince hits the right amount of youthful vigor with just enough instability. As Vince’s shell-shocked father, Tilden, O’Neill manages to be both tender and terrifying. Along with Reiter’s caustic portrayal of Halie, these performances infect the production with suspense, humanity, and madness.

The Shattered Globe production’s staging is dynamic and creepy. Scott fits this story into the intimate stage wonderfully, and uses plenty of levels to illustrate the epic forces shaping the story. Mike Durst’s subtle lighting design helps by imparting an uncanny atmosphere for the world. The design and direction meld to make Shepherd’s creation appropriately perverse.

While Buried Child is definitely darkly funny, the Shattered Globe struggles too hard to make the humor pop. However, the production is still disturbing and undeniably relevant to our situation. Although our national consciousness has altered since the writing of the play, our world is similar to the one Vince dwells in. Shepherd’s critique of shattered American dreams connects to a bleak reality many of us have glimpsed.

Rating: ««½ 

Buried Child,” by Sam Shepard
Directed by Steve Scott
Featuring ensemble members Allison Batty, Maury Cooper, and Linda Reiter
May 14 – July 12, 2009
Tickets $20-$35

 

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