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.
There Is a Happiness That Morning Is. You take your seat before a long blackboard. A bearded fellow watches as you settle in, chiding the latecomers. He is professor Bernard Barrow, and he's about to give a lecture on Blake that will certainly be unlike any lecture you've ever experienced. The evening before, Barrow and his colleague Ellen Barker — another Blake expert — were so overcome by the ecstasies the poet evokes that they made love naked beside a hedge on the quad and were discovered by the college president. They have been instructed to apologize to us — their students — or lose their jobs. Bernard's lecture, based on Blake's Songs of Innocence, proceeds immediately; Ellen's — related to Songs of Experience — will follow. The two have very different ideas about Blake, love and the meaning of their tryst — at least at this moment, since these things are always fluid. Bernard begins with a delirious exegesis of the poem "Infant Joy." Ellen's mood is far grimmer. Bernard believes their shining passion lifts them above worldly concerns; she has a concern on her mind too pressing to be dissipated by lovemaking. Her text, from Songs of Experience, is "The Sick Rose," and she interprets Blake's message as "Fuck someone. Fuck someone hard." This play, by Mickle Maher, is written in verse, and you have to listen closely, but it isn't pretentious or difficult, and the overall impact is intoxicating. Presented by the Catamounts through March 30. Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder. 303-444-7328, thecatamounts.org. Reviewed March 13.
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.