When Irish Eyes Frown

Grim and comic, The Beauty Queen of Leenane mines stereotypes for nuggets of truth

James Crawford and Susan Sargeant offer each other a last, best chance at love in rural Ireland...until mother comes along to spoil things.
James Crawford and Susan Sargeant offer each other a last, best chance at love in rural Ireland...until mother comes along to spoil things.

Some local critics have complained that C.J. Critt, a spring chicken of a performer compared with the plump, old vulture of a role she shuffles through, mugs distractingly as Mag. That's not quite true, at least not at the performance I attended. What Critt does is attempt to compensate for some very lazy old-age makeup by stretching her face into a brow-furrowed, flat-cheeked scowl. Taking this into account, she does not work overmuch to telegraph her emotions, doesn't broaden them any more than a selfish old cuss would. Technically, I had no problem with Critt's performance; indeed, as a radio broadcaster and frequent recorder of audio books, she can control her voice as a formidable theatrical instrument without ever slipping into self- consciousness. But that's a big part of the problem--that authentic, raspy-crone voice coming out of a face with a couple of eyeliner slashes across the cheeks to indicate deep furrows. ("Blend!" I wanted to stand up and shout when I first saw her. "Blend!") Critt does as well as she can, but she seems like an emergency replacement in a role that requires an actress to make you smell that old-folks'-home smell from across the rows. Her presence means this production is hobbled from the instant the lights go up, a real shame considering the anticipation many felt when Theatre Three announced it had snagged Beauty Queen for its current season. Still, Nikki Flakks possesses enough general mastery of the material--an instinct for emphasizing the sadness behind desperate deeds without diluting their shocking power--to rescue Martin McDonagh from his own worst impulses.

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