Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arthur's review of 2 Sugars, Room for Cream
Outside Mullingar is a tender and heart-warming play receiving its area premier at the Old Log Theatre. Old Log, known for presenting genial musicals, reviews, and light comedies, scored a coup in bringing this play to Twin Cities audiences just a year after its world premiere on Broadway, where it was nominated for a best play Tony award.
Author John Patrick Shanley is best known for his Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play Doubt, but Outside Mullingar is more akin to his Oscar winning screen play, Moonstruck. Like the latter, Outside Mullingar is about the pulls and pushes of two lives drawn together within the complexity of family relationships and expectations. Moonstruck exists in a specific cultural world, an Italian-American neighborhood in New York City. Outside Mullingar similarly is enriched by its immersion in a rural Irish setting. In truth, the story would be hard to imagine outside of that context, while within the context it is as natural as the dew on an Irish morning.
The two-act play opens in the kitchen of the Reilly cottage, where father and son farmers Tony and Anthony Reilly have just returned from the funeral of their neighbor Chris Muldoon. Having left the funeral with an off-handed "you should stop and see us" to widow Aoife Muldoon and her daughter Rosemary, the Reillys now prepare to receive their bereaved neighbors, who surprised them by saying they will be over that evening.
Of course, there is more to their visit than to seek comfort for the loss of their loved one. As life-long neighbors, these families have shared a lot of history, including the sale of a right of way connecting the Reilly farmstead to the road to the Muldoons. Tony is determined to buy back this strip of land, and the Muldoon's are iron fisted in their refusal to sell.
Tony and Aoife puzzle over the single status of their respective children who are passing into middle age. Their conversation also makes it clear that both are in poor health and are concerned with passing on their respective properties. Aoife fully intends to leave her farm to Rosemary. Tony shocks both Aoife and Anthony by declaring he does not believe Anthony has enough love for the land, instead considering ceding it to an American nephew who, Tony believes, has a more robust affinity to the land. And yet, it is Anthony who works unceasingly to maintain the farm, and is the only one of three children in the family to stay at home to support his widowed dad.
Anthony storms out to seek solace from Rosemary, who has remained outside to smoke. She urges Anthony to stand up for himself; Anthony wonders if perhaps he is not worthy of the farm after all. Rosemary then confronts Tony about this abuse of his son's rights, with Aoife as a reluctant mediator. Through this encounter we understand more clearly the nature of Rosemary and Anthony's relationship.
In the second act the barriers between Rosemary and Anthony are more directly addressed, in ways both unique to these two people, and universal in speaking to the pains and joys, fears and hopes common to the human heart. In its resolve, the play sends out a wave of confidence in our ability to overcome the emotional traps created by the society around us, as well as those of our own making.
The cast of four in Old Log's production is excellent, each performance perfectly capturing the soul of each character. Michael Booth captures the essence of Anthony, wearing his tender heart and vulnerabilities on his sleeve, while conveying the turmoil of long locked-in secrets. His self-deprecating demeanor does battle with his indignation at being denied his birthright.
Sandra Struthers Clerc similarly conveys the complex heart within Rosemary, a no-nonsense exterior that can roll up her sleeves to do what is needed and speak the hard truths, while concealing the wounds her yearning heart has suffered. When Anthony tells her the farm chores she takes on are too much for her, that it's a job for two men, her response is "or one woman," and we know she means it.
Candace Barrett and Raye Birk, real-life husband and wife, portray the elders, Aoife Muldoon and Tony Reilly, with a weary sense of having been through the best of life, while awaiting the worst. As long time neighbors in a closed community, they are wise to each other's ways, and not likely to pull anything over on the other. In particular, Barrett's Aoife seems to look straight through Tony's charades and knows what he is really about. Barrett also has impeccable comic timing, bringing great humor to her scenes.
Speaking of humor, Outside Mullingar is not only heartfelt, but also extremely funny. Shanley turns the lilt of Irish life and language in this very specific place into great comedy, the gentle comedy that emerges when people reveal their true selves in spite of their defenses. Throughout, the dialogue is authentic, and the narrative plotting keeps us engaged and wondering. Moreover, Shanley has created characters we care about, and in whom we can find something in common. R. Kent Knutson's direction draws our focus to the relationships between characters, and creates in the audience a stake in what happens to them.
The production is greatly enhanced by the Erik Paulson's beautiful settings, aided by Tammara Melloy's set decoration. The interior scenes are played in roomsa kitchen, a parlor, a bedroomthat unfold from the flat painted landscape panels at the rear of the stage. They help to tell the storythe kitchen with family photos and one of JFK on the wall, the cluttered Reilly home and tidy Muldoon home, the starkly bare bedroom with a prominent framed wedding photo on the bedside table ... these all tell us more about the inhabitants of these spaces. Added to this, Sara Wilcox has designed costumes that these characters seem to have long lived in.
This is a first rate production of one of the finest new plays of the past several seasons. No question, Outside Mullingar deserves to be seen. This is a rare play that leaves one feeling not only entertained and moved but somehow a better person for our acquaintance with the Reillys and the Muldoons.
Outside Mullingar continues through March 7, 2015, at Old Log Theatre, 5185 Meadville Street, Excelsior, MN. Tickets are $24.00 - $35.00, $16.00 for students with valid IDs. For tickets call 952-474-5951 or go to www.oldlog.com.
Writer: John Patrick Shanley; Director: R. Kent Knutson; Scenic and Lighting Designer: Erik Paulson; Costume Designer: Sara Wilcox; Sound Designer: Jeff Geisler; Dialect Coach: Foster Johns; Hair Stylist: Rose Klein; Tammara Melloy: Set Decorator; Stage Manager: Tim Stolz.
Cast: Candace Barrett (Aoife Muldoon), Raye Birk (Tony Reilly), Michael Booth (Anthony Reilly); Sandra Struthers Clerc (Rosemary Muldoon).