OF ALL THE ARGUMENTS for bringing children into this cold cruel world, the best I've heard is this: You'll have someone who's obligated to take care of you when you're old, no matter how shitty of an old person you turn out to be!

That's the unenviable position we can assume 40-year-old Maureen (Maureen Porter) has found herself in at the beginning of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Third Rail Repertory's staging of Martin McDonagh's 1996 play. All but imprisoned in a rundown cottage outside a crummy Irish town, Maureen spends her days caring for, and grumpily tolerating, her domineering invalid mother, Mag (Jayne Taini). And Mag is a terror: manipulative and demanding, self-pitying and hateful, she sits on her rocking chair as if it's a throne.

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Maureen's desperate for a way out—hell, even an evening out—and one appears in the form of a local boy made good, Pato (Damon Kupper). Maureen swoons, Mag reacts as one would imagine, and various forms of violence ensue.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane was McDonagh's first produced play, and it's saddled with an obviousness that's lacking in his later, better plays (like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which Artists Repertory excellently staged in 2011, or The Pillowman, tackled by Portland Center Stage in 2007), not to mention his fantastic films (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). Leenane's supposed twists don't quite twist, and despite solid turns from Porter and Kupper, the characters, particularly Mag, feel cartoony in a way that softens the play's final-act gut punch. It's still McDonagh, though, which means the dialogue is crackling and vicious and funny, and nothing can be taken for granted—that latter quality, in particular, is always welcome on Portland's stages.