The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a brilliant work, its flaws so intertwined with its crazed strengths that you can hardly separate one from the other. McDonagh grew up in London, the son of Irish parents, and invented an Ireland — and an Irish way of speaking — that's both an amalgam of the two cultures and entirely his own. His plays are a mix of grand guignol, shlock horror, wildly unexpected humor and profound, though twisted, emotion; he has a way of making poetry out of obscenity and vituperation. He evokes the misty, ghost-haunted world we remember from the work of such writers as Conor McPherson — and smashes that world to pieces. Leenane is a tiny village in County Galway, where Mag, a meddling, wheedling, whining, vindictive old woman, lives with her forty-year-old daughter, Maureen. Their interchanges are insanely funny, filled with the weary rhythms of over-familiarity and apparently trivial details about porridge and biscuits — but there's none of the grumbling, humorous bickering of most contemporary drama, and you're kidding yourself if you suspect that any trace of affection underlies them. These women are as feral as trapped animals; they genuinely hate each other. Their neighbors are the psychotic Ray Dooley and his inexplicably sweet-tempered brother, Pato, who just might provide a flicker of hope for Maureen. For the most part, the plotting is deft, but there are flaws, too, developments that don't seem credible even in the grotesque and surreal world of this play. Still, with The Beauty Queen of Leenane, director Michael Stricker has mounted one of the most riveting shows of the entire year. Every detail of set, sound and costumes is perfect — but it's the acting that matters most, and the acting is revelatory. Presented by Edge Theatre Company through March 30, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theeproject.org. Reviewed March 6.
Sisters of Swing. Sisters of Swing tells the story of the Andrews Sisters — Maxene, Patty and Laverne — from their rise to musical fame in the 1930s to their work with the USO during World War II, when they often donated their time at bases, canteens and hospitals. They are remembered for such songs as "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." In the current Boulder's Dinner Theatre production, three of the troupe's most talented performers play the sisters: spirited, strong-voiced Joanie Brosseau, mezzo Norrell Moore, and Tracy Warren, with her warm soprano. The women's moves are clean and slick, and their voices marry beautifully on the songs. They also do their best, given a thin, boilerplate script, to endow their characters with real personality, and often they succeed. Moore's portrayal of rebellious Patty, in particular, hints at the lively, strife-ridden reality behind the sisters' smooth performances. This show will be a nostalgic trip for anyone who retains memories of the war years and provide a mildly pleasant diversion for the rest of us. But it would have been nice to see the skill and talent deployed on the stage devoted to better material. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through November 9, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, bouldersdinnertheatre.com.