'Beauty Queen of Leenane' comes to Detroit Public Theatre

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Sarah Clare Corporandy plays Maureen, the protagonist of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" at the Detroit Public Theatre through May 26.

"The Beauty Queen of Leenane," a dark Irish yarn both comic and tragic, opens at the Detroit Public Theatre Thursday and runs through May 26.

The 1996 drama was written by Martin McDonagh -- whom most Americans know best as the writer behind "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which won two Oscars and the Golden Globes Best Picture in 2018.

The Detroit News sat down Tuesday with Andrew Borba and Sarah Clare Corporandy, "Beauty Queen's" director and lead actress, to talk Ireland, unrequited longing, and why McDonagh's writing is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock.

So this was Martin McDonagh's first play?

Andrew Borba: "Yes. I can't believe that. I think he wrote 15 before and threw them all away, because it doesn't make sense something this good is his first."

Sarah Clare Corporandy: "It won the Tony for Best Direction the year it came out, and three of the actors won Tonys. It got tons of awards."

What's 'Beauty Queen' about?

Andrew: "It's about the very full lives of the four characters, all grappling with their relationships with one another and their place in the universe -- in isolated Galway, western Ireland." 

Sarah Clare: "To me, it's the perfect play. It's so well written, and the characters are so full and rich and always pulling off layers. I keep wanting to see it again for the first time -- like revisiting a first kiss."

You play the daughter Maureen, who's the central character. What's she like?

Sarah Clare: "She’s a trapped, 40-year-old woman -- yearning for a very different life than the one she has."

Andrew: "And who has been tasked with taking care of her elderly mother."

Do you like Maureen?

Sarah Clare: "I love her. I just want to give her a hug. She's trying. There's a lot of things I can personally identify with -- which might horrify you after you see the play. But all the characters are very salt-of-the-earth. There's a simplicity to them."

Andrew: "Nobody's looking for their Netflix password." 

You're also the theater's producing artistic director, Sarah Clare. What are you doing on stage?

Sarah Clare: "We do it all. But I also think it's important to know what it's like to be an artist in our company, to see the other side." 

How would you rate McDonagh as a writer? 

Andrew: "McDonagh’s such a good storyteller. I keep coming back to Hitchcock. The story reveals itself in the most delightful way – you just don’t know what’s coming next. It's so well-crafted and just a great yarn."  

Does the story bear any resemblance to McDonagh's 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?'

Andrew: "The difference is that the movie wasn't subtle the way the play is. There's real subtlety in 'Beauty Queen.' And the author really plays to our expectations -- we expect to see an Irish romance. And we do. It's just not the one we expect."

Western Ireland certainly sounds romantic. 

Andrew: "There's a McDonagh quote that I'll probably botch: 'Everyone thinks rural Ireland is romantic, except for the people who live there.'"

So is the play a downer?

Andrew: "No - it's a celebration of Irish wit and language and joie de vivre. But there's also this oppressive English presence -- where if you really want to make it, you have to go across the water. There's an ache in the play that really investigates that." 

Does Maureen's character grow over the course of the play?

Sarah Clare: Yes.

Andrew: "Well, there's certainly change. But that should be the question people leave with and talk about afterwards at the cafe -- or pub." 

(313) 222-6021



'The Beauty Queen of Leenane'

Thursday - May 26

Detroit Public Theatre, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $25 - $47.50

(313) 576-5111


Twitter: @mhodgesartguy