Irish Lament

The language and the actors make this melodramatic plot work

The men in the cast are every bit as good as the women. Stein's Ray constitutes one of the most delightful components of the production. He is quirky and wonderful to look at with his skinny neck, bony face and his britches hitched up well above his ankles. His timing is smart and ironic, and his physical life on stage is reason enough to see the show twice.

Bockhorn's Pato is the only "normal" character in this bizarre world occupied by repressed people who've been cooped up too long. He comes from England with hope, joy and desire, all standing in stark relief to the raging hopelessness of Leenane. His sadly romantic epistle to Maureen, which Bockhorn narrates as he stands alone on stage, provides one of the most sweetly poignant moments of the night. It is an example of grown-up love at its absolute best.

All these disparate elements are brought into focus with Ethan McSweeny's intelligent and seamless direction and with Kevin Rigdon's heartbreaking set, which is the miserable Folan kitchen full of broken-down appliances and grimy gimcracks. Behind this sad room rises the bucolic Irish landscape in all its pastoral splendor. The irony of these antithetical images only adds to the tragedy of Maureen's story.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a rich and luscious addition to Houston's theatrical season. And with it the Alley offers Houstonians the rare ability to see one of the most talked-about plays running on Broadway.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane plays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, (713)228-8421, through February 6. $31-$46.

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