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The Beauty Queen of Leenane @ Costa Mesa Playhouse – Review

photo credit: Michael Serna

Written by Zack Johnston

A dreary kitchen table setting lays the backdrop for the lonely yet intimate home of Mag and Maureen Folan, a despondent old woman, and her 40-year-old spinster daughter and caretaker.

This is “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” by Martin McDonagh, a play about the familial burdens we bear and the ones we don’t. It’s about confronting necessary evils while battling uglier, more complicated ones. In between the drama and chaos of it all, the play finds moments that are touching and sometimes difficult.

The play opened Aug. 26 at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, directed by Michael Serna and Peter Kreder.


Together, Mag and Maureen live secluded and uneventful lifestyles until the unexpected rekindling between Maureen and her long-time admirer Pato Dooley, a distant acquaintance seeking his own fulfillment. Upon returning to Leenane, Pato and Maureen discover a sense of belonging with one another, much to Mag’s chagrin.

The play is a powerful and ambitious slice-of-life narrative, taking a hard look at a tumultuous relationship. The stagnation of the entangled lives and the deceitfulness of the character’s actions serve as an ideal recipe for catastrophe. While the dark humor provides some levity to the ordeal, the heaviness cannot be understated.

The show is jarring. There is a sheer intensity throughout every moment and, at times, an awkwardness to the pacing as the drama unfolds. The performance evokes some unsettling emotions, but then again, when does dealing with tough family matters not?


Every corner of the home exudes a rustic plainness and the modest trappings of this Galway village. Heavy gray tones in the scenic and costume design add a weightiness to the overall environment and to the overall tension.

Mag’s wooden rocking chair is the focal point, placed near the center between a wood-burning furnace and a small, dated television set atop a plastic crate. This is where Andrea G. La Vela spends the majority of her performance as Mag. Le Vela carries a subtleness to her role of the ailing yet conniving mother. Mag is constantly engaged in controlling or belittling those she depends on.


La Vela’s interpretation sometimes feels subdued, but there is a complexity to Mag’s identity that she effortlessly captures. The relationship with Maureen is riddled with resentment and callousness toward each other. Through her engaged rhythm with the dialogue and intriguing mannerisms displayed, La Vela is able to convey this dynamic while also shedding light on the insecurities driving the self-destructive tendencies.

The one character who seems to match Mag’s level of unplaced bitterness is Ray Dooley, Pato’s boorish younger brother, who pops in as the story’s unsuspecting messenger. Cody Aaron Hanify plays Ray and encompasses the persona of the easily-agitated male. There are charismatic layers to Hanify’s portrayal, which features a volatile range of expression. Although at times overbearing, the raw energy and volume Hanify presents makes his role a stand-out.

Ray finds himself ushering messages between Maureen and Pato, endearingly played by Mark Coyan. A loving gentleness is evident in Coyan’s performance of a man wanting more from life. As Pato begrudgingly enters the world of Maureen and Mag, Coyan is able to engage with the humor and effortlessly display Pato’s kindheartedness.

In the middle of it all is Maureen, played by Jordana Whitton. Maureen is strong, but there is much that lies beneath the surface. Her decades of frustration and longing are on full display in Whitton’s performance. As the threads begin to unravel and the darker elements of the story come to light, Whitton is unabashed in her delivery of a troubled woman finding a sense of release and seamlessly navigates Maureen’s development with a gripping fierceness.

Ultimately, the production is enthralling in its emotional directness and, while lacking somewhat in finesse, is beautifully poignant and provoking. “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” runs at The Costa Mesa Playhouse through Sept. 17.

7.4 Overall
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Set & Design7.5
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