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February 10, 2017 | Notes From Leadership,

Boston as a Vital Destination in ‘Beauty Queen’ and Beyond


Warsan Shire’s widely read poem HOME begins powerfully:

“No one leaves home 

unless home is the mouth of a shark”


The final stanza sticks in your heart:

“no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”


These past weeks our attention has been pulled to the questions of immigration in ways both pointed and unsettling. The rhetoric on all sides is careless, overblown, politicized, intentionally misleading. The words of our current debate, unlike Shire’s poem, lack precision. They lack grace. They don’t inform. They don’t create clarity. They inflame our sense of chaos rather than lead us to a deeper understanding.


Empathy, in this environment, connotes a political stance. And yet we are, of course, a city of immigrants. 140 languages are spoken in Boston. There is no single majority culture here. The city’s founders were refugees from religious persecution, arriving undocumented on these shores.


As you will hear, the city of Boston plays an important role in Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Although the story unfolds in a small village in Ireland, Boston is the destination that characters Pato Dooley and Maureen Folan speak and dream about throughout the production. Even in the pitch-black darkness of McDonagh’s comedy, we can feel for these characters. We understand they are hearing the “sweaty voice” in their ears. “I don’t know what I’ve become.” It’s a different kind of violence these characters are living, but the drive to get to safety is as acute. And in the hands of the playwright, just as in the hands of the poet, we feel it. And sitting in the dark, with hundreds of strangers, we can connect in that feeling. That’s the special power of theater. It creates, of strangers, an instant community bonded in empathy for the strangers on the stage.


Think again of the photos of the immigrants arriving at Logan Airport.  As you watch this production, consider what it means to live, work and learn in a place that so many consider a vital destination to pursue their hopes and dreams.


And, as you leave the theater,  take a moment to look up at our marquees. They carry the Emma Lazarus poem that is etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty right now. “Give me your tired, your poor…”


-David Dower, Co-Artistic Director


The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs FEB 8 – 26 at the Emerson/Paramount Center

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