The history of stories between two women sharing a house under uneasy circumstances is a long one, from the sisters in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to the mom-daughter duo of ’Night, Mother. Add to it Martin McDonaugh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, getting its latest treatment courtesy of Kitchen Dog Theater.
These tales never end — or start — well, as the estrogen levels tend to poison the atmosphere to the point where someone either suffocates or gasps for air in any way she can.
For the mother-daughter of Beauty Queen, it’s Mag (Nancy Sherrard) and Maureen (Karen Parrish), holed up in a ramshackled cottage in rural Ireland. Mag is fat and lazy and snippy, and has used those qualities and a supreme selfishness to keep Maureen, who sees 40 in her rear-view, a spinster with a history of mental health problems. It’s why Mag feels no compunction about tossing personal letters to Maureen into the fireplace and lying about them. Why should she have all the fun?
You know where it’s headed — basically — long before it gets there. Maureen might as well be living in the Bates Motel.
The key, of course, to a dark comedy like this one is the recipe that balances humor and pathos and the explosions of violence that are McDonaugh’s signature. In Kitchen Dog’s version, however, the early scenes are marred by the actresses talking too fast in heavy brogues; like Honey Boo, you need subtitles to follow along, at least until the ear adjusts. It’s hard to float on laughs when you’re straining to hear the dialogue alone.
Then comes the betrayals by Mag which, if done right, feel like the height of cruelty; again, for those to work you need to feel like Mag has it comin’. But Sherrard has a patrician air about her that works against the character. Mag needs to be revolting and hateful, not a self-interested scamp with no super-ego. Until the very sight of her makes your skin crawl, you don’t feel the full impact, despite naturalistic performances by the cast (including Drew Wall’s pattened bouncing-from-the-ceiling unpredictability).
The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through Dec. 8. KitchenDogTheater.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 16, 2012.