The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh

Content Warning
Language: Strong language
Violence: Explicit scenes of violence
Themes: Mental and physical cruelty, loneliness, abuse, mental illness, sexual references

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SuperSummary Plot Summary of “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” by Martin McDonagh

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a play by Martin McDonagh, traces the tempestuous relationship of a spinster daughter and her mother to a gruesome end. Maureen Folan’s mother, Mag, meddles in Maureen’s first opportunity at a real relationship and ultimately pays for it with her life. The play premiered in 1996 in Galway, Ireland, put on by the Druid Theatre Company.

The play opens in Maureen and Mag Folan’s house. Forty-year-old Maureen is a virginal spinster. She lives with and cares for her mother, Mag, who is seventy.

Mag receives a visitor while Maureen is out running an errand. Ray Dooley has arrived to inform the women that his American Uncle is headed back to Boston and they are invited to his going-away party. Ray asks Mag to give Maureen the message, but Mag pretends she cannot remember what he has told her. He decides to write the message down on a piece of paper instead, but as soon as he is gone, Mag throws the paper in the fire.

Mag has a bad back and a badly burned hand, but Maureen suspects that she can do more than she lets on. When Maureen arrives back home, she scolds her mother for being so reliant on her. She goes on to say that she met Ray on her way home and he told her about the party. Realizing that Mag meant to keep this information from her, she forces her to drink Complan.

Maureen attends the party in her new dress and attracts the attention of Pato, Ray’s older brother. She brings Pato home with her and he stays the night. Pato works in construction and splits his time between London and Leenane. He has never spoken to Maureen in the twenty years that he’s known her, but he reveals that he has always considered her “the beauty queen of Leenane.”

The next morning, Mag is shocked to see Pato making her breakfast. Maureen has given him instructions to make himself known, and she, too, comes out in only her underwear.

This flaunting of the couple’s sexual relationship makes Mag furious. She tells Pato that her hand is burned because Maureen intentionally scalded her with hot oil. She adds that Maureen was sent to an English psychiatric hospital and Mag had to take guardianship of her in order to get her out. She leaves the scene to find Maureen’s release paperwork.

Maureen explains that while she was living and working in England as a cleaner, her coworkers used to tease her resulting in a nervous breakdown. She says that Mag burned herself when she tried to cook when Maureen wasn’t present. According to Maureen, Mag is addled and confused and cannot discern her lies from the truth.

Pato believes Maureen. He asks her to dress in something warmer. Taking this as a slight, Maureen becomes self-conscious and has a fit of rage. Pato leaves, telling Maureen that he will write.

Pato sends a letter from London. He plans to move to Boston to work with his American uncle, and he wants Maureen to come with him. There will be a going-away party in Leenane. He tells her not to worry that he experienced dysfunction during their sexual tryst, as he was drunk.

Pato gives the letter to his brother and asks him to give it to Maureen only. When Ray goes to deliver the letter, however, Maureen is not there. Mag tries to persuade Ray to leave the letter with her. Ray already resents Maureen, because she once confiscated the ball from his swingball set when he was a child and refused to give it back to him. She also snubbed him not long ago when he said hello to her. Mag feeds Ray’s resentment toward Maureen, whilst also promising to deliver the letter directly to Maureen. Ray, convinced that he owes Maureen nothing and bored of waiting, leaves the letter with Mag. She reads it and then burns it.

The night of Pato’s farewell party, Maureen has no idea that he is still interested in her. To save face, she tells Mag that she ended her relationship with him and boasts about their intimate encounter. Unable to let the opportunity pass, Mag makes fun of Pato’s impotence. Maureen, knowing Mag should not have that information, tortures Mag with hot oil until she confesses the contents of the letter.

Mag is prostrate on the floor as Maureen gets dressed and hurries to the party. When she returns, Mag isn’t moving. Maureen tells her that she was able to catch Pato at the station before he left and they confessed their love for one another. She will join him in America very soon. Maureen is holding a poker whilst she tells Mag this information. As she finishes speaking, Mag falls out of the rocking chair, dead: she has been violently beaten.

The next month, Maureen is exonerated of Mag’s murder. The day of Mag’s funeral, Ray tells Maureen that Pato left by taxi, not train; Maureen realises that she never saw him at the station after all. Ray tells Maureen that Pato is engaged to a woman that he’d been dancing with before he met Maureen at his Uncle’s going-away party; Maureen asks Ray to tell Pato that “the beauty queen of Leenane says ‘Goodbye.'” Ray finds his swingball and leaves. Maureen, looking exactly like her mother and sits in her rocking chair.

The play was nominated for several awards, including the BBC Award for Play of the Year in 1996. It won the 1998 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the Drama League award for Best Play the same year.