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A CurtainUp Review
Outside Mullingar

"The middle of anything is the heart of the thing."
—Aoife Muuldoon as she and neighbor Tony Reilly discuss life and death after her husband's funeral. Truer words never spoken in the light of her daughter Rosemary long repressed feelings for the love-shy but sensitive Anthony Reilly bloom into the love affair it was meant to be since he knocked her down on a stretch of the Reilly property when she was six and he thirteen.

Outside Mullingar
Brian F. O'Byrne and Debra Messing(Photo: Joan Marcus)
For John Patrick Shanley Outside Mullingar is a double homecoming, a return to his Irish roots and the quirky romantic spirit of Moonstruck. Unlike his previous collaborations with Manhattan Theater Club, this endearing new romantic comedy with an Irish accent, has been launched on Broadway. (Even his Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt started out Off-Broadway and then transferred to Broadway).

Instead of Cher's Italian-American Loretta Castorini and Nicolas Cage's Ronny Cammareri we have Debra Messing's delightfully feisty Rosemary Muldoon and Brian F. O'Byrne's touchingly introverted Anthony Reilly. No soaring opera score for a big romantic moment, but no matter. Messing in a winning Broadway debut (she's best known to small screen viewers for Will & Grace and Smash, though she demonstrated her stage chops in a 1997 production of Collected Stories ) and the ever superb O'Byrne (his many credits include the role of the suspected pedophile priest in Doubt ) bring their own kind of music to the Samuel E. Friedman Theater's stage.

While you won't find the potent discussion provoking theme of Doubt of some other Shanley works, you'll be hard pressed to resist being charmed by Shanley's way of retelling this basically familiar and very Irish story. Though the happy end is predictable, watching this particular pair of quirky middle-aged loners find a way to end a lifetime of loveless solitude before it's too late is irresistibly enjoyable.

As is to be expected from a savvy storyteller with more than just a touch of the poet, the saga of Rosemary and Anthony's grabbing the gold ring on the dour merry-go-round of their lives is expertly structured and full of lyricism. (A gold ring actually does figure in getting to that happy ending).

The first of the play's seven scenes introduces us to the Reilly and Muldoon families' quirks, the potential fault lines in the Reilly father and son relationship and the Reilly and Muldoon neighborliness. The death of the senior Muldoon has Tony Reilly (Peter Maloney), the dead Muldoon's contemporary contemplating the future of his farm when he dies. He seems set to sell it to a cousin he feels would appreciate it more than the son who has tended it all these years. . .but that sale is unlikely to happen unless the Muldoons relinquish ownership of a patch of land between their farms.

That Rosemary and Anthony are meant for each other is clear from their first scene together and the follow up scene in which she fiercely attacks the elder Reilly for not appreciating his son. But it takes five more years to finally make Rosemary and Anthony validate the statement by Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy)her mother "The middle of anything is the heart of the thing" and grab hold of that gold ring to make the rest of their lives a joint and meaningful one. Those interim years and scenes include one between father and son that could be too treacly but, thanks to the script and the actors, is a heart-wrenching high point.

Though the surprise element in that final scene borders on the bizarre, Messing and O'Byrne are so endearing that it works and had the audience at the performance I attended eat it up. While they are the key players, Dough Hughes, who also directed Doubt, has guided all four members of this cast to inhabit their roles so comfortably that they don't seem to be acting.

While Messing and O'Byrne are the key players, Peter Maloney adds a splendid mix of vinegar, warmth and humor to the proceedings as does Dearbhla Molloy in the smallest but nevertheless important role of Rosemary's mother. Their post funeral interchange in the first act has some of the funniest dialogue even as it adds a typically Irish aura of somberness.

Like the performances, the stagecraft is impeccable. John Lee Beatty's rotating set takes us to four different locations and is strongly supported by Mark McCullough's lighting. Catherine Zuber's costumes and FitzPatton's original music and sound design are equally outstanding. And Stephen Gabis has helped Messing (whose roots are Russian-Jewish) to sound as convincingly Irish as her colleagues.

Mr. Shanley's characters and sparkling dialogue make Outside Mullingar strong enough to resonate with audiences in future regional productions with less Broadway-ish stagecraft and casting. Following links to plays by him reviewed at curtainup.

Storefront Church
Sailor's Song
Where's My Money?
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
Romantic Poetry
Beggars Use of Plenty

Missing Kissing
Four Dogs and a Bone
Italian American Reconciliation
Psychopathia Sexualis

Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley
Drected by Doug Hughes.
Brian F. O'Byrne (Anthony Reilly), Debra Messing (Rosemary Muldoon), Peter Maloney (Tony Reilly) and Dearbhla Molloy (Aoife Muldoon)
Scenic design: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lighting: Mark McCullough
Original music & sound design: Fitz Patton
Hair and wig design: Tom Watson
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Stage Manager: Carlos Maisonet
Running Time: Approx 1 hour and 40 minutes, without an intermission
Manhattan Theater Club Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street
From 1/03/14; opening 1/23/14; closing 3/16/14
Tickets,$67 to $127.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on January 26, 2014
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