Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Backyard Renaissance

This production by Backyard Renaissance plays through July 13th at 10th Avenue Arts.

By: Jul. 06, 2024
Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Backyard Renaissance
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Welcome to the house on the big hill in County Galway, Ireland, where the steady beat of falling rain can be heard, and the chill in the air is as much from the relationship between the Folan women who live there as the weather.  “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” by Backyard Renaissance finds humor in the darkest situations and plays through July 13th at 10th Avenue Arts. 

The play opens with 70-year-old Mag Folan (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) sitting in her rocking chair when her 40-year-old spinster daughter Maureen (Jessica John) enters soaking wet and carrying groceries.  They exchange small talk, but they’re not pleasantries and Mag doesn’t wait for her to settle before passive-aggressively complimenting and ordering her about.   

Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Backyard Renaissance

Mag has three daughters, but the other two got married, left home, and have avoided their mother and this place as much as possible since.  This leaves Maureen to be Mag’s caretaker and with few other options.  Maureen's dreams seem to be thwarted and deferred by cantankerous Mag’s demands, but Maureen is ready to seize her chances where they come.

That chance comes via an invitation by neighbor Roy Dooley (Nick Daugherty) to a going away party, where Maureen reconnects with Ray’s older brother Pato (MJ Sieber). Alas, this opportunity also escalates their machinations as they try to outmaneuver each other.

Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Backyard Renaissance

There is a lot of humor built into the direction by Francis Gercke to help balance out some of the darkness which includes mental and physical abuse, and the tensions build slowly as the tragedy unfolds. The characters feel grounded and very human.  The homey scenic design by Tony Cucuzzella, lovely atmospheric lighting including the fireplace and the TV set by Curtis Mueller, and sound design by Logan Kirkendal that includes the dicey radio signal playing old Irish songs, and the falling rain, give a sense of timelessness and cut off from the world that makes one wonder if this is an eternal Sisyphusian battle the two are locked in.

There is a magical alchemy that happens when Jessica John and Deborah Gilmour Smyth take the stage together and this play is no exception. Gilmour Smyth is maliciously mischievous as Mag, who plays the invalid to others but is as sharp and dangerous as ever.  Though to the Dooley brothers, she may appear a sweet old mother, her shifting eyes and slight smile belie an impish delight right before she says something to Maureen.

John’s Maureen is equally complex and manipulative, finding contemptuous delight in keeping things comically uncomfortable.  She dreams of being loved and finding a new life elsewhere as she sits trapped in this house on the hill. Eventually “blood will tell” as they say, and she does prove she is her mother’s daughter by the end.

Review: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Backyard Renaissance

If the Folan's are ice queens, the Dooley brothers bring in the warmth.  Sieber as Pato is sweet and sensitive, especially at the opening of the second act when writing Maureen a letter.  Daughtery is a comedic ball of energy as the feckless younger brother, and who is delightfully oblivious to Meg’s desperation to get her hands on the letter he is tasked with delivering.

”The Beauty Queen of Leenane” is a funny, heartbreaking thriller that brings a terrifying unpredictability to the stage.

How To Get Tickets

”The Beauty Queen of Leenane” by Backyard Renaissance runs through July 13th at 10th Avenue Theatre.  For ticket and showtime information go to

Photo Credit: Daren Scott and Backyard Renaissance


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