By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Maureen is bitter as gall about her lot in this Gaelic life. Her two sisters have married and moved away to avoid helping out with the care of their aged mother. Every day looks and sounds the same in the Folan household--empty nattering about the weather, the radio and a chicken-flavored health drink called Complan (about which Mag endlessly complains). Then one day a neighbor lad, Ray Dooley (Quad C student James-Michael Specht), drops by to invite Maureen to a party. There she is reacquainted with Ray's older brother Pato (Quad C student Carter Hudson), a lonely but sweet-natured man who works construction jobs in England. Pato spends the night with Maureen and gives her hope of a future together in America, an idea she clings to like a drowning swimmer thrown a life preserver.
But what's to become of craggy old Mag if Maureen leaves? The answer is the surprise in this dark scenario. As even Norman Bates knew, eventually we all become our mothers.
Quad C's productions are known for the high quality of the acting and the design values (the two-year theater studies program here is one of the best in the nation). Beauty Queen is a beaut in all respects. Directed by Shannon Kearns-Simmons, the cast makes nary a misstep in this tricky two-acter, and the actors handle the thick Irish brogues better than Uptown's actors do their Italo-Canadian accents.
The toughest role is Maureen, and Julie Painter is too young by half to be playing a middle-aged woman. But the actress is wise beyond her years when it comes to the depth of feeling required. The part asks for huge mood swings between anger and hope, flirtation and disappointment. Painter shows it all convincingly. She could afford to slow down her rapid-fire delivery, especially in Act 1. The audience is with her from the moment they see her soft moon face.
Both young men in the cast are handsome devils with strong acting chops. It's no wonder Maureen falls for Pato. As played by Hudson, he's old-school romantic, Robert Taylor in cheap pants and suspenders. Specht provides the comic relief as Ray Dooley, a goofball whose impatience with Mag leads to the plot's most heart-wrenching turn.
Wickwire is always a reliable workhorse of an actress. Here she screws her face into nasty whorls and zigzags as mama Mag. What a piece of work this character is, a villain in a housecoat. As a bad mother, this one makes Medea look like Donna Reed.