Twenty years ago I was in New York on theatre related business and unexpectedly had to stay over an extra day – which meant a free night. I had a meeting near the excellent Atlantic Theatre Company and I thought I’d check out what they were doing. It turned out to be a play called The Beauty Queen Of Leenane by Martin McDonagh who was emerging on the scene with much fanfare from the UK as the successor to Arthur Miller – with a dark comic twist and new daring. This was his first production in the States, so I bought a single ticket for the evening performance.
It turned out to be the opening night and coincidentally I happened to be sitting next to the very same Arthur Miller. Wow, this is going to add a memorable dimension. No doubt Miller was there to check out the voice of this young writer being cast in his shadow – maybe with a skeptical eye?
It was certainly exciting for me to be able to see McDonagh’s work for the first time. I envy audiences who get a chance to witness a new work without any preconceptions. As a theatre producer the vast majority of time I’m plugged into the style and substance of the play I’m seeing (even new ones) before I see them – which means I can’t have the same unfiltered experience of a regular member of the audience. But luckily with this one I could.
And what a thrill ride! There are four what I call audience gasping “OMG I can’t believe this is happening” moments on stage. I glanced over at Arthur Miller and he was transfixed as was the entire house. We were all in McDonaugh’s thrall and I loved Miller’s total engagement with the work. He embodied what it means to be on the edge of your seat.
At the end Miller was the first person on his feet shouting bravo and leading a full house standing and cheering ovation. I spoke to him briefly after the curtain call and he was bubbling with enthusiasm. It was uncharitable of me to think he would inevitably hang back critically.
Fast forward 20 years to this past October in Limerick, Ireland where I saw the premiere of the revival ArtsEmerson is presenting in February. It’s created by the same Druid Theatre, the same Director Garry Hynes, and featuring (now in the role of the mother) the same astonishing Mary Mullen who won a Tony Award for best actress 20 years ago playing the daughter. In fact the production won 4 Tony Awards including one for Garry Hynes (the first woman to win a Tony for the direction of a play!). You may remember ArtsEmerson’s Druid production of McDonagh’s The Cripple Of Inishmaan also directed by Garry Hynes in our first season.
This revival is stunning. The play has marinated well. It’s coming to us right after a three week run at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and while it has the same OMG moments to propel the story, I found it deeper and more emotionally fulfilling than the original.
-Rob Orchard, ArtsEmerson founder.
The Beauty Queen Of Leenane runs FEB 8 – 26 in Boston. Tickets are on sale now.