Looking for something romantic to do for Valentine’s Day? Think about heading to John Patrick Stanley’s new play, Outside Mullingar. This heartwarming love story is set in Ireland, but Americans will love it. It tells the story of two middle-aged Irish farmers who, although they are next-door neighbors, take years to admit their love for one another.
Irish plays are often gloomy and dour and, in that vein, the play begins immediately after the funeral of Chris Muldoon. Chris’ wife Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy) and daughter Rosemary (Debra Messing) come to visit their neighbors, the Reillys. While Rosemary and Anthony Reilly (the superb Brian O’Byrne) are outside, their parents talk about the disposition of their farms at their deaths. The strength of Shanley’s writing is evident as their talk of death after the funeral can be really humorous.
A Shanley regular, O’Byrne, plays Anthony Reilly, a 43-year-old single man who continues to tend his father’s farm. Peter Maloney plays Tony, his elderly father, well aware of his mortality. Tony claims that his son is actually more like his deceased wife’s crazy father than he is a Reilly. So he is concerned about leaving the farm to Anthony and considers selling it to his American nephew. The only stumbling block is the narrow strip of land that separates the house from the shed, which he sold years before to Chris Muldoon for 200 pounds. Later Tony tells a sweet romantic story about why he sold the land. When he wants to buy the land back, Rosemary refuses to sell it. Though supposedly Rosemary holds a grudge against Anthony for pushing her down when she was 6-years-old, she fights vociferously for him, arguing with Tony that he should leave his farm to his son.
Heading the superb cast, O’Byrne is perfect. Slightly balding, he looks the part of the gentle farmer with a dreamer’s soul. He is soft-spoken but firm, distracted yet real and ever so appealing. Best known for her TV roles in “Smash” and “Will and Grace,” Messing is impressive as the chain-smoking Rosemary — thorny, willful and tough. The two performers make a believable well-matched pair.
The two older actors, Moloney and Molloy, are so natural that the audience feels that it’s observing a natural visit between two old friends. Their no-nonsense delivery and repartee is a source of great humor. It may take a few moments for some in the audience to acclimate themselves to the Irish accents. Messing spent time with a dialect coach to learn hers and she manages to maintain the accent throughout the play. Meanwhile, the other three come by theirs naturally.
Outside Mullingar is an intimate picture of two people looking for love but waiting for the right signs. There's a bit of mysticism, some poetry, talk of madness and most, importantly, a sweet romance. America has a new love story; it just happens to take place in Ireland.