Everyone has family problems, but the pair in The Beauty Queen of Leenane could easily win Worst Mother-Daughter in County Galway.
Mother Mag and daughter Maureen share a decaying home outside of the isolated village of Leenane, along the Irish coast. Mag is essentially housebound, relying on her daughter to be at her beck and call.
Maureen resents the wreckage of her life, finding petty ways to get back at Mag, such as buying a brand of cookies that both of them hate because it will make her mother miserable. They bicker endlessly in a running power play neither can escape.
Mag, meanwhile, is more than a nag. She interferes in her daughter's life, including burning a note informing her that an old friend, Pato, is back in town.
Pato secretly admires Maureen, but never acted on it before moving to London for a job. On a quick break back to the Emerald Isle, he finally lets Maureen know how he feels, leading to the happiest night of her life.
But Mag gets in the way. Her bitter reaction to Maureen having a life of her own — and possibly leaving — moves her to make Pato as uncomfortable as possible, which drives a wedge between the two.
The dour, desolate relationship between mother and daughter is illuminated to perfection by Sally Wingert and Amber Bjork.
Wingert (Mag) has been among the top actors in the Twin Cities for years, with a skill to disappear, Meryl Streep-like, into roles.
Bjork is a revelation. She's been a solid player throughout her career, but her version of Maureen is arresting. With Pato, she showcases the shy girl who has been pushed aside by decades of hard life. Yet her callousness rises to the fore whenever she's with her mother.
Director Carin Bratlie Wethern described the play as "like watching a car wreck." The power of the performances — and Bratlie Wethern's deft direction — means you can't help but rubberneck.
IF YOU GO:
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Park Square Theatre
Through Jan. 24; 651-291-7005