STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
A little bit of Ireland comes to Center City when the Philadelphia Theatre Company stages “Outside Mullingar.” The curtain goes up Nov. 28 for previews; the show opens Dec. 3.
“Outside Mullingar,” set in rural Ireland, finds Anthony and Rosemary dealing with a land feud, their difficult and cranky parents, and their hidden romantic feelings for each other. The play was written by John Patrick Shanley, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony, and an Oscar. He also wrote “Doubt: A Parable” (the play and the screenplay) and the screenplay for the movie “Moonstruck” (starring Nicolas Cage and Cher).
It’s a story of family, love, life, death, and the family farm. For Anthony, “it’s a play about love and loneliness and the difficulty of coming together,” said Anthony Lawton, of Roxborough, who plays him.
Anthony (the character) is an eccentric and introverted man who is often criticized by his father.
“His dad kind of shoves him around,” Lawton said. “Anthony’s common resort is to go out and tramp around in the fields and be by himself.”
Lawton can sympathize: “I’m an introvert in a lot of ways. I’m sometimes more comfortable with animals than I am with people.”
That might not be obvious considering how Lawton makes his living. But being on stage and pretending to be someone else is fun and a way to express himself. He has acted for 22 years after earning an MFA from Temple University in 1992. He estimates he has been in more than 90 professional productions since then.
He likes being an actor, even though he thinks it can be a bit of an egocentric career. Mostly, though, he likes that he has opportunities to “give people some insight into what it is that makes it worthwhile to be alive,” he said.
Lawton didn’t start acting until college. “I was class clown, but didn’t do anything constructive with it as a kid,” he said. “I made trouble.”
But since getting serious about his craft, “it’s worked out so far for me. It’s a good life.”
Originally from Southern California, Lawton’s thrilled to be a working actor in Philadelphia’s thriving theater scene, which he says is a great secret. “Shhh. Don’t tell anybody and ruin that,” he joked.
David Howey, of Bala Cynwyd, has worked steadily in Philadelphia for about 20 years (after 30 years working in London). He plays Tony, Anthony’s father, who struggles with life after the death of his wife.
“He stopped working and so he sort of lets the son do all the work and he sits there and tells the son what to do,” Howey said.
Tony is a bit cantankerous, and Howey can relate: “Grumpy old dads are in my repertoire. I think I played my first one when I was 24,” he said. “The taciturn side of me comes out.”
Being from northern England, Howey said he can understand why a piece of land is so important to the characters in the play. He knew people like them. (Tony tells Anthony he’ll leave his farm to Anthony’s American cousin, not him, which is unusual – farms are usually passed from one generation to the next.)
Howey’s proximity to Ireland helped him to get the accent right, too.
“Being English, it’s in your ear, in your world. You hear it all the time,” he said. “When I lived and worked in London, I had Irish friends. I drank in Irish pubs occasionally.”
He’s excited to work on a piece written by “a lovely writer” like Shanley, he said, whose work has a “slight touch of poetry.”
Lawton agrees: “It’s an extremely well-written show. It’s funny and I think audiences will identify with the characters and the problems they’re having.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Outside Mullingar” by John Patrick Shanley
Where: Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard streets, Philadelphia.
When: Previews begin Nov. 28; Opening night Dec. 3; runs Tue.-Sun. through Dec. 28.
Info.: For ticket prices and more information, call (215) 985-0420 or visit www.PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org.