Directed by BJ Jones
Produced by Northlight Theatre
Shanleys Find Love at Northlight
John Patrick Shanley has won acclaim for character studies in plays like Doubt: A Parable and Defiance. For his latest play, now playing in the Midwest for the first time at Northlight, Shanley drew sketches of his own extended family, whom he met while visiting Ireland with his father. Outside Mullingar is the story of the joining of two families on a divided farm, and is likely to warm, if not excite the hearts of many. BJ Jones’s production guides us through losing and regaining love, with a smooth Irish accent.
The Reillys and Muldoons have lived side by side for a generation, but now the old ones are dying off and it’s the end of an era. After burying her husband, Aoife Muldoon (Annabel Armour) visits the widower Tony Reilly (William J. Norris) in his house, where he estimates they each will follow their spouses in less than a year. She doesn’t seem that bothered, but his son, Anthony Reilly (Mark L. Montgomery) is distressed to hear him talk that way. Tony doesn’t care that much about Anthony’s feelings though, and is chiefly concerned with who will run the farm when he’s gone. Since Anthony’s already doing most of the work, he seems like the natural choice, but it quickly becomes clear that he suffers from an anxiety disorder, and is unlikely to produce an heir even if he could keep himself together enough to function without his father. Tony won’t disinherit him exactly, but he’s he’ll give the land to the church before Anthony gets it.
Another problem is that the farm does not have direct access to the road. The driveway is owned by Aoife’s daughter, Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry), and she’s not giving it up. She’s had her eye on Anthony their whole lives, and is endlessly frustrated by his inability to make decisions or stand up for himself. Time passes, as do the parents, and as Rosemary and Anthony age side-by-side, their feelings go unrequited. It takes a poorly conceived plan by Anthony to marry Rose to his American cousin to get them to open up, and continue their lineage.
The play is short despite taking place over three years, but Jones’s direction still establishes a sense of time. Kevin Depinet represents both the Reilly and Muldoon residences through a wooden set with a very high roof. But while the Reilly kitchen is rudimentary, the Muldoon’s use theirs enough to keep it clean and have lots of appliances. Neither family is rich, but the rooms’ barrenness seems like the preference of the rough people living there. Costume designer Rachel Laritz is consistent with this striving for realism. Tony’s vest and tie could be his mourning clothes as well as everyday wear. Andrew Hansen has collected beautiful Irish ballads to play at opportune moments, some of which sound like Paul Clayton.
Montgomery, accomplishes a deeply sympathetic performance as someone who has trouble verbalizing his discontent. Late in the show, Anthony’s dysphoria is revealed to be far more severe and bizarre than anyone guessed, but until then, he struggles as best he can to not only get by, but maintain basically decent, though distant, relationships. Fry, as Rosemary, responds in kind with the agony of being in love with a mentally troubled person. Rosemary’s brassy bossiness goes just far enough to prevent her from being straightforward about her desires, but she still rails against Tony and Anthony. The play is light-hearted about these themes, however. Norris’s Tony is not so much a bully as he is self-absorbed and prone to underestimating people. He gets to tell the best stories, and has a wit drier than Irish stout. Annabel Armour’s part has little stage time, but she’s memorable as Norris’s equal in verbal sparring, but with more compassion despite a gritty exterior. The characters all make religious references, and while they’re not close-minded, the small village outside a small town is fast-paced enough for them. These four actors display great skill interpreting their dialects and personal quirks, and by feeding off each other, they forge a genuine connection that includes the audience, as well.
Shanley says he wrote this play to celebrate life at sixty. Though the main characters are younger than that, I still think this is a play from an older person’s perspective, and will prove more enjoyable to Shanley’s contemporaries. Still, it’s an excellent production which transported the audience I was with to a state of tranquility. Shanley’s language is far from subtle; the characters eventually get around to expressing their feelings for love and the world in grand terms. I detect a wistfulness from playwright that they could not have done this sooner, or compressed their feelings until they came out so strongly. The play’s message is ultimately hopeful: people can find their contentment with life even when they’re over forty. And for some people, it will take that long.
Reviewed March 20, 2015
This play is Jeff recommended
For more information, see Outside Mullingar’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. Tickets are $25-78, to order, visit www.northlight.org. Plays Tuesdays at 7:30 pm (except March 31), Wednesdays at 1:00 pm (except April 8) and 7:30 (except March 25), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm (except Aprils 14) and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:30 pm (except April 5) and 7:00 pm (except April 5 and 19) through April 19, 2015, Running time is ninety minutes with no intermission.