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The Rousuck Review: "Outside Mullingar"

Stan Barouh

John Patrick Shanley. A playwright with that name might be expected to write plays with Irish settings, Irish characters, Irish themes, Irish music. Not Shanley. He didn’t want to be pegged an Irish-American playwright.

Then this author of the screenplay of the Italian-American-themed movie, Moonstruck, gave into his roots and wrote Outside Mullingar – his 2014 play set in the rural outskirts of a town 50 miles northwest of Dublin.

It’s been a happy homecoming. Outside Mullingar is among the most produced plays at American regional theaters this season. One of those is Everyman Theatre, where Donald Hicken has directed an endearing Baltimore-Washington premiere.

It’s not just the setting that situates Outside Mullingar squarely in the Irish tradition. Shanley has captured the Irish gift of gab – its mellifluousness, its humor and its morbidity.

The play begins when a father and his middle-aged son return from a funeral. “It took me back to the last time he died,” the father says, launching into a story that’s as funny as it is sad.

The son, Anthony, has invited the widow and daughter of the deceased to stop by. Father and son have certain things in common with mother and daughter, as we begin to discover when Wil Love, as the crotchety father, and Helen Hedman, as the infirm mother, discuss old age.

These senior citizens share more than just being up in years. His son, Anthony, and her daughter, Rosemary, grew up together. They’re neighbors. But a dispute about the right of way to his farm has driven a wedge between the families – that and the fact that Rosemary has held a grudge against Anthony since she was six.

Beth Hylton’s Rosemary is full of gumption. Her mother calls her a bulldog, and she not only has that tenacity, she bullies Anthony and his dad.

In Rosemary’s first verbal skirmish with Tim Getman’s Anthony, Hylton stands with her hands on her hips, and, when that’s not defiant enough, she steps up on a stool to lord it over him. She insists he challenge his father’s plan to sell the farm out from under him.

Unlike Hylton’s gutsy Rosemary, Getman’s Anthony is reticent and a tad strange. He’s one of those lanky men who doesn’t know where to look or what to do with his hands.

Yet you know Anthony and Rosemary are destined for each other. Outside Mullingar is that kind of piece. How they get together – if they get together – is the substance of the play.

There are many lovely touches at Everyman: The evocative green landscape painted on barn siding panels in Daniel Ettinger’s set; the Celtic-flavored incidental music composed by Phillip Owen; the soft – and mostly steady – Irish inflections coached by Gary Logan.

The performances are so lovingly detailed, you’d swear there was a family resemblance between Wil Love and Tim Getman. The evening’s most touching scene is their last one together, when father tells son how he finally found joy.

There also appears to be a family resemblance between Helen Hedman and Beth Hylton. Ms. Hylton, in particular, has a knack for thoroughly transforming herself with each role she plays.

At a little more than 90 minutes, Outside Mullingar is a slight play. It has the tenderness of Moonstruck, but lacks the social consciousness and topicality of John Patrick Shanley’s other well-known work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt.

Still, Outside Mullingar explores some broad themes – family heritage, moving beyond the past, finding your place in the world and accepting love. In its modest way, it’ll increase your own appreciation of your world and the people around you.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.