REVIEW WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD
For 21st Century Media
It begins with a death and it asks the universal questions about who we are, what we want, and what holds us back. But “Outside Mullingar,” by John Patrick Shanley, is not a glum or morose play. Instead, it is an entertaining light comedy that deals with the dilemma of a 40-something year old pair of unmarried neighbors in rural Ireland, as they try to figure their next steps in life.
Both Tony Reilly (Anthony Lawton) and Rosemary Muldoon (Kathleen McNenny) have been friends since childhood, and both have aging parents. In fact Rosemary has just lost her father. They have been tied to their respective farms all their lives — Tony, because of his reclusive nature, Rosemary, trying to come to grips with her own desires. But now, Tony’s father Anthony (David Howey), has announced that when he passes, he doesn’t plan to leave the farm to his son.
Not a confrontational sort, Tony doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. And despite the efforts of his father’s friend and neighbor, Aofie (Rosemary’s mother — Beth Dixon), Anthony is resolute. He sees his own son as strange and fears that he will never marry, thus losing the family homestead after he is gone.
The handwriting is on the proverbial wall. The story is rather predictable. But what makes this endearing play so engaging, are the relationships of the four. There is a genuineness in every line. There is a natural humor that flows as much from Anthony’s clever wit as Tony’s beleaguered tentativeness. The repartee between Anthony and Aofie is a reminiscence of their lives and is peppered with humor that makes it a joy to listen in on.
Rosemary has her own agenda. From a childhood incident some thirty years earlier, she obtained a small piece of land that is an obstacle to Anthony’s plans to offer the land to an American nephew. But she holds more than that. She has harbored feelings that almost assault the meek and unsuspecting Tony, and is the heart of Shanley’s play.
As I’ve alluded to earlier, it’s not a complex play, and in the hands of a cast less talented than this, it may seem frivolous. But the emotional depth displayed by Lawton and McNenny brings us right in. They’re great. We love each of them and we love them together. We are fans in the grandstand, almost rooting them on.
Kudos to director Mary B. Robinson, who has put together an outstanding ensemble. Also to set designer Jason Simms, who created a simple, but fluid set that seems to change effortlessly from scene to scene.
Less than a year since it opened in New York, it’s exciting that Philadelphia Theatre Company has produced such a heart-warming play during this Christmas season.
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: Runs now through Dec. 28.
Info.: For ticket prices and more information, call (215) 985-0420 or visit www.PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org.