‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ explores codependent relationship

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Malibu residents Joan Benedict Steiger and Tyron Power Jr. to star in the Irish play at Malibu Stage Company.

By Candice Arciaga / Special to The Malibu Times

While in a frenzy of packing her belongings from her Malibu home during the brush fires last fall, veteran actress Joan Benedict Steiger came across a dark, gothic, Irish play, filled with comedy.

“I had been looking for a new project to start,” said Steiger, whose recent performances include “The Vagina Monologues,” “Collected Stories” and the one-woman show “Leona.” “I had packed enough items to fill two trucks, and by chance the play fell out.”

After the fires, Steiger read through the play, and loved it. “I immediately knew this was it.”

The “it” is the Tony Award-winning play, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” opening at the Malibu Stage Company May 16, directed by Carmen Milito, and produced by Jackie Bridgeman, founder of the theater company.

Written by Martin McDonagh, director of the film “In Bruges,” “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” originally opened in 1996 at the Druid Theatre in Ireland. The story takes place in Connemara, a very poor town in Ireland where McDonagh is from.

Steiger takes on the lead role and antagonist, Mag Folan, a possessive mother who has solely contributed to the despair of her daughter, Maureen, played by television and film actress Linda DeMetrick. For the past 20 years Maureen has cared for her mother and, thus, has been prevented from leaving the house and being wed. Tyrone Power Jr., the son of Hollywood star Tyrone Power, and the great-great grandson to the Irish actor/comedian Tyrone Power, is cast in the role of Pato Dooley, Maureen’s love interest.

Mag and Maureen’s tale is a heart wrenching relationship of codependency, director Milito said. The story delves into the neurosis of Mag, an overtly controlling mother who “truly is manipulative out of her own will and need to survive,” Milito said. “It is the only way she knows how to operate, to feel protected.”

Milito, who has been directing for 15 years, and recently won the MORE/WIF Short Film Contest for her 2006 family-inspired film “Slice,” has fully immersed herself into the emotional state of this mother and daughter duo.

“I love the mind, the emotional connection. It takes all kinds of people to make up this world, and the plot of this play is a real situation,” Milito said.

She describes Mag and Maureen as an isolated pair from society. Their loneliness tells a story of their need for each other, rather than being just a mother and daughter; they are two people in a difficult emotional situation who are unable to release themselves from their pain.

“This is the way of life, for some, and anyone who tries to help them becomes a product of their neurosis,” Milito said.

While the play’s story is dark, the director said it also carries a strong sense of humor.

Power’s character, Pato, strikes up a romance with Maureen while home for a visit, and little does he know what he’s getting into.

Pato “doesn’t drive the action of the play but is swept up by it,” Power said.

Robert Postrozny, a New York stage actor and recipient of the 2006 Gold Hugo Award for his role in his self-directed, written and produced film “Forgetting Betty,” plays Pato’s younger brother, Ray. The actor, wanting to get the full feel for the Irish dialect and manner, traveled all the way to Ireland himself, visiting the town of Leenane, to do research for his role.

Despite the dark nature of Mag and Maureen’s relationship, the play will hopefully “leave you with a sense of hope, a chance for happiness for Maureen,” Milito said.

“The Beauty Queen of Leenane” will run May 16 to June 8 at the Malibu Stage Company. Curtain times are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or by telephone at 310.589.1998. More information can be obtained online at www.malibustagecompany.org