‘Beauty Queen of Leenane’ reigns at the Mark Taper Forum with charming, yet broken characters

There seems to be a pattern in modern Irish drama — one both constructed by and reflected in the work of playwright Martin McDonagh — of developing characters of great richness and charm, in situations which can appear darkly humorous until these same characters prove invested with fantastically fatal flaws.Such a work is “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” at the Mark Taper Forum.This production by the Druid theater company of Galway, features essential elements of their premiere of the work in the 1990s: from director, and Druid Artistic Director Garry Hynes (the first woman to win a Tony for directing the New York production of this piece), to award-winning actress Marie Mullen, who created one role in the original production and returns to play another.
Each of these connections, fraught with friction, may lead to either happiness or terror.Central to the piece is Aisling O’Sullivan’s Maureen, edgy and consistently, sharply, seething with resentments. Mag’s interference brings up implications both imaginary and real, as Ray’s immature younger brother Pato is called upon to act as go-between when Ray returns to work in England. Indeed, she manages to make the audience like Mag and despise her all at once. Balancing this sharpness is the wry charm, and devious maneuvering of Mullen’s Mag, the sort of full-body performance (oh, those facial expressions) one can easily recognize as remarkable.

Add to this strong new performances from Druid regulars, and you have a work steeped in modern Irish thought and culture, filled with unforgettable characters recognizable as funny, infuriating and, on occasion, grippingly awful.Maureen Folan, in her 40s, is the sole caregiver to her somewhat hypochondriacal and manipulative mother, Mag. At a celebration nearby, she reconnects with the elder of two brothers from a neighboring farm, Ray, and begins to dream about a life outside of the drudgery of her current situation.

The aura of looming darkness and the moments of lighthearted humor seem likewise to have a sense of natural flow, and her respect for the language itself and the rich roundness of the characters brings with it a deep humanity which connects across all barriers of culture and framework. Aaron Monaghan creates, in Ray, an open, decent man whose straightforward nature provides a profound contrast to the roiling complexities of the Folan household. As the character often central to the comic relief, Marty Rea’s Pato radiates a constant restless energy and an obtuse, silly and selfish view of things which balances out the tensions and deviousness of the rest of the play.Hynes knows these characters from long acquaintance, bringing an organic feel to the play as if it rises out of its very setting, Francis O’Connor’s decayingly gray country cottage.
Tuesday-Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Sunday; continues through Dec. ★★&#x2605&#x2605When: 8 p.m. 18Where: Mark Taper Forum, at the Music Center, 135 N. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Grand Ave., Los AngelesTickets: $25-$85Running time: 2 hrs., 30 mins., including a 15 minute intermissionSuitability: Older teens and up, for implied violence and sexual referencesInformation: 213-628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org