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'Beauty Queen' Director Puts Spotlight on Irish Stage

Tony Award-winning director Garry Hynes wasn't always known as "Garry." Nor was she always trumpeted as one of the brightest directors working in theater.

It was childhood playmates that shortened her given name, "Gearoidin," to Garry. But it was Ms. Hynes's own talent and the good fortune of discovering playwright Martin McDonagh that launched her into the international theater spotlight.

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Hynes has ushered Mr. McDonagh's "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," a searing observation of the lives of two rural Irish women, from her own theater in Galway, Ireland, to acclaimed productions in England and Australia, a sold-out off-Broadway run, and Tony Awards for best director, featured actor and actress, and lead actress. The show is now enjoying a successful Broadway run at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

But long before forging the important relationship with McDonagh's work, Hynes was establishing herself as a luminary of the Irish stage.

Along with three college friends, she created the Druid Theatre Company in 1975. They wanted to offer a mix of productions reflecting Ireland's culture and heritage. "There was no professional theater at all in Ireland, outside Dublin, at the time," Hynes says. "We went into it without any rules."

After struggling for a few years, the company presented its revival of "Playboy of the Western World." "We responded to the play from our own contemporary, university-educated ... perception, and yet one which was tied in with the Gaelic culture," she says. Critics noticed, The Irish Times called it the definitive version of the play, and her work started moving to Dublin and London.

Enter McDonagh and "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," the first play in his "Leenane Trilogy." McDonagh's work, combining traditional country-based stories with a modern sensibility, fit right in. "If Martin McDonagh hadn't existed, Druid Theatre would have had to invent him!" Hynes jokes.

Hynes recognized something in the young man's writing that fit with her ideas about theater: acknowledging the country's roots. "Irish theater, Irish society, and Irish culture have become so contemporary that it's changed all out of recognition in the last 20 years," she says. "We're a very brash, very successful, confident culture now."

Hynes believed that audiences would welcome plays that looked back. "You open this play, and you see it's a kitchen, it's in the country. There's an old woman in a chair, and a 40-year-old virgin."

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She points out that one of the play's strengths is that it dares to be specific. "The more intense the localizing factor is, the more universal the piece becomes. That's what our company has always been about - a passionate commitment to time and place."

So Hynes snapped up "Beauty Queen," and the rest of McDonagh's output, and launched into a series of productions that have been heralded everywhere they've been done.

One of the most supportive audience members to view her work was playwright Arthur Miller. "Arthur came to see 'Lonesome West,' the third part of Martin's trilogy.... He was like Mt. Rushmore, sitting there!" she says, showing her awe.

Miller was so impressed with Hynes's directorial skills that two weeks later she received a copy of Miller's newest play, "Mr. Peters' Connections," and an invitation to direct its premire in New York.

Hynes comments on the director's role in bringing a play to life, saying she permits her actors to experiment in finding the best approach. "For a director, the material is not just what's on the page; it's what's standing ... in front of you. I'm there to establish where we are, and what this might be about, what it is now, and where it should be going. Then, it's a series of constant adjustments. It's always a difficult and imprecise ... process."

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