Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Also see Mark's review of A Great Wilderness
Nowhere is this contrary life better illustrated than in Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award (Doubt) and Academy Award (Moonstruck) winner John Patrick Shanley's play Outside Mullingar, now on stage at the Clague Playhouse directed by Anne McEvoy. Here it's illustrated that Irishmen avoid marriage well into their mid-thirties and forties as they wait to inherit the family farm and cottage thus making themselves men of means. Yet, in spite of the back-breaking hard work, hand to mouth existence, battling of weather at every turn and huge gambles that all farming families face, there is a humor that can be seen in the twinkling of their eyes.
Shanley's own early life could itself be turned into an Irish drama. Of Irish-American descent, his mother was a telephone operator and his father a meat packer who raised him in the tougher part of The Bronx. Shanley's early schooling was marred by constant conflict, including being thrown out of kindergarten, banned from the grade school hot lunch program, and expelled from high school. When he was placed on academic probation at New York University he left school to join the Marines at the height of the Vietnam war but was able to get a stateside posting. After he was discharged he attempted to write a novel, but ended up burning it. To survive during his second attempt at higher education he held a number of service and blue-collar jobs. While not a native of the Emerald Isle, his Outside Mullingar captures the romanticized life of rural Ireland with all its joys, conflicts, pathos and longings.
Following the funeral of their neighbor Christopher Muldoon, Tony Reilly (Ron Newell) and his son Anthony (Chris D'Amico) return to their cottage along with Aoife (Rose A. Leininger), who is the widow Muldoon, and her daughter Rosemary (Cat R. Kenney). With the funeral fresh on their minds the older folks talk of how little time they have left on earth. Tony reveals for the first time that, although his son has worked the land since the age of five, he will be passing it on to a distant American cousin who had chanced to visit the previous year.
The reasoning behind this shocking decision is that, in spite of Anthony working "hard and well," Tony feels his son will never be a true man of the earth, as he tells him, "You dont stand on the land and draw strength from it." This is added to the fact that, at 42, Anthony is still not married and Tony has a wish is to have the farm remain in family hands in future generations. Anthony leaves to collect his thoughts and finds Rosemary in the small garden shed smoking a pipe. Secretly, Rosemary has been in love with Anthony since she was six years old when he pushed her down during his 13th birthday party. Anthony, on the other hand, is scared to death of relationships due to being scorned by the one love of his life, Fiona, when he was eighteen.
During the various kitchen chats it is brought out that a strip of family farmland sold by Tony to old man Muldoon separates the Reilly property from the main road, forcing the Reilly clan to enter and close two gates in order to gain access to their house. This strip of land is now owned by Rosemary, who has no idea why the agreement was made in the first place. Upon finding out about the change in Anthony's inheritance status, which may have a direct bearing in her perceived future, Rosemary comes to the defense of Anthony and attempts to reason with Tony.
These four superb actors bring the color and texture of the written characters to life. After allowing for the brogue to clear, it is easy to pick up on the accents and understand the wonderful humor mixed with pathos.
Ron Newell is perfectly cast as Tony Reilly, who alternates between praising and berating his son while counting down the few days he has left of mortal toil. Chris D'Amico gives a carefully measured performance as a man torn between his romantic feelings and his fear of another rejection. As Aoife Muldoon, Rose A. Leininger's short time on stage is well utilized to set the tone of the play and educate about the various traditions involved.
Cat R. Kenney as Rosemary Muldoon is the hardest worker of all as she fights for what she sees as rightfully hers and Anthony's. Her plight is that of young Irish women who are forced to stand still long enough for the men to catch up with them. All four actors work well together in a collection of brilliant scenes, allowing the one-act play's hour and forty five minutes to fly by.
Of special note is the absolutely brilliant scenic design by Ron Newell. In the wink of an eye, two folding sets are maneuvered on wheels to become one of two cottage interiors (one traditional and one more or less modern) plus an outdoor shed scene. Collections of nick-knacks abound to delight those in the audience who enjoy seeking out little visual pleasures. Also to be admired are to the lighting design by Lance Switzer and the sound design by Bryan Ritchey, adding wonderful little atmospheric touches that greatly improve the experience.
While clearly a romanticized look at traditional Irish rural life, Outside Mullingar has enough truth to balance it out. With an outstanding cast who blend well, you will quickly find yourself falling in love with the characters and their stories. With most Clague Playhouse productions selling out, you would be wise to get your tickets quickly in order to enjoy this well-produced gem of a play. It is one that the entire family will love, although some adult themes may be confusing to young children.
Outside Mullingar will be on stage at Clague Playhouse through April 9, 2017. Days and times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $15 for Seniors (60+) and $10 for students with valid ID. Limited free Thursday student tickets (high school or college) may be reserved by calling the Clague Playhouse Box Office from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesdays prior to any Thursday performance in order to reserve a seat. Student ID is required at pickup. No online reservations will be taken for the free Thursday student tickets and seats are subject to availability. You can purchase tickets by calling the Clague Playhouse Box Office at (440) 331-0403 Wednesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 6 p.m. or by visiting www.clagueplayhouse.org.