Last weekend audiences (January 31 and February 1) were treated to the dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh and the compelling performances by the ensemble of Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano, Tim Gleason, Sheri Nash Braun and Tom O'Neill. The play, directed by my wife, Traci Brant, and Jonni Pera is nuanced and superbly acted. It crackles with hilarious and sometimes vicious bits of humor, while making the most of some deeply sad moments and shocking plot twists. As a play, The Beauty Queen is that breed of theatre that Chicago Street has earned a reputation for doing very well and not one audiences are likely to see anywhere else in Northwest Indiana.
It's pretty obvious, I can't say enough about how good our current production is. For years, as a director at Chicago Street Theatre, I tried to wrestle the show away from Traci and Jonni to no avail. They had, after all, directed The Cripple of Inishmaan in 2004 and the critically acclaimed Pillowman in 2010. Both productions further fueled my love for McDonagh's writing. I love the edginess of his stories and his attention to human behavior in his dialogue. The playwright's movies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, have jumped onto my list of favorites along with films by the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino.
The first time I saw one of McDonagh's plays produced it was Beauty Queen at Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre. Many of the things that I had read about McDonagh prior to that were hailing him as the "Irish Sam Shepard and David Mamet all rolled into one." Being a fan of both Mamet and Shepard, the play did not disappoint. It was engaging--especially in the most mundane little conversations between the well crafted characters in the show--and totally terrifying at it's violent climax. Beauty Queen was precisely the type of play I love to see--well-acted, perceptive, mysterious, and gutsy.
When Jonni and Traci announced that they were not going to let me direct the show, I was completely okay with that. I knew that these kind of intense and provocative plays have become their forte. Among directors at CST, we some times even refer to the January/ February play as the "cutting edge slot" because it is when we as a company choose to produce something risky and contemporary like last season's American Rex or The Goat by Edward Albee in 2012 directed by Justin Treasure and Andy Urschel. This is the time of year where we challenge both our artists and our audiences by doing something on par with the "In-Your-Face" style of theatre one would have to go to Chicago to see at Steppenwolf, Shattered Globe, Strawdog, or the like.
My hope is that with the popularity of darker TV shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, House of Cards and others, there are audiences who want to see art that tackles difficult subjects with finesse and humor. A production like Beauty Queen is the type of play I prefer to experience rather than the "name brand" staples that "community" theatres are known for producing. I believe a theatre must step out of its comfort zone every once in a while in order to progress to their full potential and attain the level of excellence that their audiences deserve.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is the type of show audiences who love theatre deserve. While it is important to do work that fills the seats, it is also important to do and support art that feeds the soul. I love that Chicago Street is a company pushes itself by taking risks on shows like McDonagh's. With this type of fearless production being done, I truly hope that audiences will brave our Northwest Indiana winter fearlessly to see it. You'll be so glad you did.
-CST member Eric Brant