Outside Mullingar is a Satisfying Charmer
The 95-minute, one act comedy is set over the past five years in the Irish countryside of the village of Killucan in County Westmeath, fifteen kilometers from Mullingar. As Outside Mullingar begins, Tony Reilly, a mean, difficult elderly widower and Anthony, his diffident 42-year-old unmarried son, have just returned home to the kitchen in the house on their farm after attending the funeral of their next door neighbor, Christopher Muldoon. Out of kindness, and to his father's consternation, Anthony has invited Muldoon's widow Aoife and her single 36-year-old daughter Rosemary back to the house for tea. Aoife enters while Rosemary stops in the barn to have a smoke. The banter in the house is as colloquially rich and funny as it is troubling. The elder Reilly bears an irrational hostility toward Anthony for reasons buried in the past. Thus, although Anthony's siblings have long ago abandoned Killucan and their difficult dad, while Anthony has labored long and hard to maintain the farm, the elder Reilly is planning to sell it to his American nephew. However, the nephew will buy the property only if a 40-meter piece of land owned by the Muldoons which divides the farm and blocks direct access to the house is also conveyed to him.
Rosemary Muldoon provides the backbone for the play. Cantankerous, sharp and independent, she seemingly carries a grudge against Anthony over his having knocked her down when she was six years old. Yet, she makes it clear that the Muldoons will never facilitate Tony taking the land from his son by returning the 40 meters to him. Anthony's lifelong relationship with Rosemary has cemented in his stolid mind the belief that there could be nothing in the way of a romantic relationship between them. If that were to change, it would require Rosemary to swallow her pride, gather her considerable strength, and aggressively conquer Anthony's resistance.
Although we are aware from the beginning that Rosemary and Anthony are predestined for one another and just to where Outside Mullingar is going, Shanley makes it all work. He accomplishes this by making Anthony's ignorance of their predestination and Rosemary's reticence to court him believable: creating strong (in the case of Rosemary), dimensional and sympathetic characters whom we care about; and writing dialogue which combines sinew with a touch of the poet.
Director David Saint has assembled an outstanding cast and directed with a gentle sensitivity befitting the play. Ellen McLaughlin portrays Rosemary with uncompromising harshness and strength while subtly and clearly showing us the warm humanity beneath her hard exterior. John Bolger is likable and solidly believable as the simple, decent, and painfully unaware Anthony. It is a pleasure to see stalwart veterans Patricia Conolly (Aoife) and David Schramm (Tony) delightfully establish the play's roots with their on target, rich and witty Irish archetypes.
After the passage of five years, with the changes which life and death brings, Outside Mullingar closes with a rich and moving extended scene between Rosemary and Anthony. It has been referred to as a "rom-com" scene by some, and George Street describes the play as a romantic comedy. However, it is too real, too spare in its dialogue, and too lacking in treacle for me to accept "rom-com" as a term to describe it. It is surely closer in tone to Shanley's screenplay for Moonstruck than it is to Shanley's powerfully dramatic Doubt.
There is beautiful message tucked away in Outside Mullingar that I would like to think echoes beyond its rain-battered Irish countryside setting. And that is "It's a grand day for a walk, and those days are few".
Outside Mullingar continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday - Saturday 8 pm/ Sundays 7 pm - except 11/2 ; Matinees: Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 2 pm - except 10/23) through November 2, 2014, at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, N.J. 08901; Box Office: 732-246-7717; Online: www.GSPonline.org.
Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley; directed by David Saint