An actress finds the beauty in never giving up

by Rita Charleston
Posted 9/30/22

Set in the isolated mountains of Connemara in County Galway, Ireland, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” tells a sometimes comic - and sometimes dark - story.

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An actress finds the beauty in never giving up


Set in the isolated mountains of Connemara in County Galway, Ireland, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” tells a sometimes comic - and sometimes dark - story.

The production at the Allens Lane Theater, directed by Josh Hitchens, focuses on Maureen Folan, a lonely woman in her 40s, and Mag, her manipulative, aging mother. When Mag interferes with Maureen's possibly last chance at a romantic relationship, the war between mother and daughter escalates in disastrous ways.

The Tony Award-winning play by Martin McDonagh runs through Oct. 2.  

In this current presentation, Paula Kem, who lived in Wyndmoor for several years before moving to Cambridge, Maryland, takes the role of Mag, a mother like no other. 

“The play takes place in a rocky, dark area of Ireland, and revolves around the conflicts between mother and daughter,” Kem said. “Mag had three daughters, and only one, Maureen, is left at home to become her mother's caretaker while at the same time struggling to find her own identity and freedom.”

The play, Kem continued, was originally set to be performed at Philly Playhouse West in North Philadelphia. “But then COVID hit, and everything was canceled,” she said. “Still, I thought it should be done one more time. And since I used to be on the board at Allens Lane, I decided to produce it myself at this theater in Mt. Airy.”

One of the biggest challenges Kem faced, she said, “is getting my lines straight. It's been two years since I knew the lines and wondered, and worried, if they'd come back to me. That's the only difficulty I faced in doing this play. Everything else I enjoyed thoroughly. In fact, even though I got a late start, I enjoy everything about being an actor.”

In fact, in just a few short years, Kem has done film, a web series, theater, a TV pilot, commercials and more. “And even though I enjoy it immensely,” she said, “every night before I go on, I think I can't do this. I can't remember my lines. I know I'll open my mouth, and nothing will come out.You know, one might not realize this, but acting is a difficult thing to do.” 

Kem, who admits she'll be celebrating her 75th birthday in November, describes herself as “an Indiana farm girl” and was not always an actress. In fact, her first role didn't happen until 2017 at age 70 when she appeared in an Off-Broadway production of “Twelve Angry Women” after Kem had retired. Looking for something else to stir her interest, she decided to take acting classes.

“In high school, I loved being in all the plays, but I never thought of pursuing it as a career,” Kem said. “But I did like being around lots of creative people. It was always exciting and lots of fun.” 

After high school, Kem's practical side took over, and she went on to attend Indiana University, where she earned a degree in economics. She later attended University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., and received a master’s degree in education. She also studied in a master of divinity program at United Lutheran Seminary in Mt. Airy. Much of the next several decades were spent working in the healthcare industry and finally as a major gifts officer at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Even though there may be some challenges to overcome in her new career, there's also lots of joy. “I absolutely love acting,” she said, “and look forward to many more roles. Someday I'd love to do 'Night Mother.' I'd probably be good at it, and I'd love to have the chance. I think it's never too late to do something you've always dreamed about doing, something you really love. So instead of being afraid of being too old, I say just get out there and keep up with it. Honestly, it's never too late.”

Allens Lane Theater is located at 601 W. Allens Lane. This presentation is part of the 2022 Fringe Festival. For more information, call 215-248-0546.