by HAYLEY HUNTLEY
*to be read in an Irish Brogue*
Dear Beauty Queen of Leenane,
It is Hayley Huntley and I’m writing from Reno on account of I’m still here leftover from Thanksgiving, but I did see you last on the eve of my departure, back in Los Angeles it was. There are a lot of things I want to say but I am no letter-writer, but I will try to say them if I can. I thought we were getting on royally, when I saw you at the Mark Taper Forum and the part after when my friend and I did talk about you in the car on the way to mine. And I did think you were brilliant and I do think.
I won’t be claiming you’re the first play I’ve ever loved, Beauty Queen, I’ve known a lot and loved a few, and I won’t be pretending the ones I’ve loved are gone from my memory, and I do expect some of their features will stay written on my heart or my mind — or are the heart and the mind really that different, but that’s a subject for a different letter — for as long as I do live. At least when ya have a favourite part of a movie, you can expect to be seein’ it again, thanks to the button that does the rewinding and all. But with a play, when ya see the moment that you know is going to be your favourite, you gotta both enjoy it and mourn its passing at the same time, because plays are gone forever the instant they’re done — save for a proper revival or goin’ two times to the same show (which I did do this month with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is a subject for a third letter).
I am ‘beating around the bush’ as they say, because it is you I do want to be talking about, Beauty Queen. You had a moment like that, and it’s the reason for me writing this letter. It was your fifth scene of nine, when Pato Dooley sat at a table in the middle of the stage with nothing but a single light over his head, and he did read the entirety of a letter he was sending off to Maureen, only he wasn’t reading per se because there was no letter in front of him, no, it was like he was a reciting the letter as he composed it. It was a monologue, I suppose, but monologues do get a bad rap what from auditions and acting classes, so I didn’t expect to be walkin’ away remembering this part, but don’t they say ya find love where you’re not lookin’ for it?
I don’t want to be spoilin’ ya for people who don’t know ya, Beauty Queen, but safe to say Pato Dooley’s letter was a love letter, and it did pour out with the irregular rhythm of a nervous and full beating heart. Pato’s letter did take cautious steps toward its goal, did ‘beat around the bush,’ did worry for the consequences of its wish’s own fulfillment — but it also left its message open and raw, ready for the takin’. I’m not a love-letter writer, but I have drafted a few in my day, and I do think I started draftin’ my own love letter on the scratch paper in my mind as I listened. I always do get hung up on the backs-and-forths of romance, the love tugging here and the doubt tugging there — my desire to say things like “always and forever” and “I’m dyin’ for ya,” but my mind interrupting to say that “always” is a hard promise and dyin’ ain’t exactly true if I’m livin’. My own experience of grand gestures is that they contain both the fear they won’t be reciprocated (because what then?), and also the fear they will (because what then?). I get to wonderin’ sometimes if love letters are a thing from the past, or a thing for poets, but Pato’s made me think that love letters can sound the way a writer thinks, and if that writer’s me, it’s not a straight line I’m thinkin’ in. They aren’t always full of promises; sometimes they’re full of questions. And I heard in Pato’s letter a sort of apology, too, because when you’re capable of lovin’, you’re also capable of hurtin’, and even though we all do our best to maximize the former and minimize the latter, don’t they always come in a pair?
More than makin’ the audience ponder about love, Pato’s letter did drum up a great deal of suspense, because we got to wonderin’ if maybe the letter wouldn’t get to Maureen in time, or maybe the wrong person would get it instead (you do know who we’re talkin’ about). It almost feels like somethin’ from a Shakespeare play, this idea of a letter that could save a person’s life, if only it could get to her. You probably heard, Beauty Queen, that the audience did sit forward in their chairs and say “aw” at Pato’s reading of the letter, and not a single person was coughin’. I say that, because I did have an acting teacher once who said when ya hear the audience cough, you’ve lost ‘em. No, this letter is where you hooked ‘em, Beauty Queen. I mean to say, maybe you hooked ‘em earlier, but sometimes ya hook a fish (my dad’s a fisherman) and it doesn’t know it’s hooked until you yank the line and the fight begins. So this is when you yanked the line, and we began the fight — the fight for a happy ending. After this scene, ya probably heard when we squirmed or squealed or said “No!”, trying to protect this fragile letter from anyone who would cause it harm. That’s a powerful thing for a play to make a person do.
Anyway, I’ll be letting you go now, but I hope to be seein’ you again, and until then I’ll be replaying the letter part in my head with all its quiet hope and its Irish Brogue that made everything sound foreign at first but finally so familiar that it made me feel Irish, too, and hopeful, too. And even if I never hear from you again I’ll always have a happy memory of that night, and that’s all I wanted to say to you.
NOW PLAYING: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at Center Theatre Group, through December 18.
A darkly comic tale of Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her early 40s, and Mag, her manipulative, aging mother, whose interference in Maureen’s first and potentially last loving relationship sets in motion a chain of events that are as tragically funny as they are horrific.