Martin McDonagh, the author of acclaimed plays including "A Skull in Connemara," "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and "The Pillowman", as well as the movies In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, is an exceptional writer, says Shotgun Players member Beth Wilmurt, who has been performing in the Bay Area for 25 years. She plays Maureen Folan in McDonagh's play "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" at the Marin Theatre Company.
"Rhythmically, he's amazing, and his wit and humor are so strong," she said. "There's this fine line between drama and comedy, but it's not even that he's going back and forth from comedy to drama -- it's like a constant mash up."
Joy Carlin, who plays Mag Folan, Maureen's manipulative mother in the play, agrees.
"For me he's like an Irish Clifford Odets," she said. "His language is beautiful and poetic. It's also the structure of the play, which is so tight. It's really interesting working on this play."
In the play, McDonagh's first, Maureen has come back to Leenane, a small town in Connemara, to live with her mother. Unlike her, her sisters have gotten married and moved as far away from their mother as possible. "Beauty Queen" has plenty of what McDonagh is known for- brutality, humor and unexpected, shocking situations. In spite of being so heightened, it feels familiar, Wilmurt thinks.
"She's feeling oppressed and wants to get rid of her mother," Wilmurt says about Maureen. "They're feeling stuck, both mother and daughter, and I think we can all relate to that."
Carlin, the winner of many San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards for her roles, has worked as a director at theaters including Aurora Theatre Company, SF Playhouse, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Shanghai Youth Drama Troupe. She says doing this play stretches her.
"I haven't played such a role since I played the witch in 'Hansel and Gretel' at 13," she said. "It's exhausting. It takes it out of you to be so mean. I'm usually cast as a nice lady."
After focusing on directing for the past few years Carlin, enjoys getting back to acting. She has directed both Wilmurt and the wildly talented Rod Gnapp, who plays Pato Dooley in this play.
"This is the first time I've acted with them, and that's quite joyous," she said. "I admire Mark so much, and it's nice to have a chance to work with him."
She's talking about Mark Jackson, the award-winning director, actor, and playwright, who is directing this play, his first for Marin Theatre Company.
Wilmurt has worked with Jackson for 20 years, and she says they have a kind of shorthand.
"He's a big fan of McDonagh, and he's good with heightened material," she said. "He does comedy really well and drama really well, so even though he doesn't usually do living room dramas, this has all the elements he gravitates towards."
"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" opens at the Marin Theater Company, 397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, on May 28. Tickets are $36-$52. Please call 388.5208 for more information.