BWW Interview: 'Inside' Mullingar With Peter Maloney
"The humanity of this story, the way John has crafted these characters, is astonishing," said Maloney, a stage veteran and writer. "When I'm backstage after I've finished, I listen to the show on my little speakers in my dressing room and I am emotionally moved every single night. I am so touched by the tenderness in the writing and the brilliance of the actors."
The funny and poignant story examines two adjacent farm families in the center of Ireland. "It's ultimately a love story between residents of neighboring farms," Maloney explained. "There's quite a feisty relationship that exists between the two families and consequently between the two principals," played by Debra Messing and Brían F. O'Byrne, who plays the son of Maloney's character. "It's a hilarious play and one of the most touching stories I've been in."
OUTSIDE MULLINGAR is a timeless work, Maloney said. "I was always taught that people don't change. Styles and modes of existence change, but people at heart don't. And in this story, the conflicts between younger and older generations are a real struggle between Tony and his son," he said. At question is the fate of The Farm itself and the legacy of the family name. "I have a real struggle with my son over that. It's very heartfelt and at the same time there's some serious comedy, too."
Maloney personally knows the stresses and tensions that arise when dealing with older parents. "My mother is 103 and we're living in an age when parents are living longer and longer. I'm 72 and still a son of my mother. The play reflects the anguish we all face as we all age," he said.
"I just love this wonderfully rich play, and audiences are responding in such a way that's thrilling everyone, especially our playwright," Maloney said. "He creates and tells a powerful story and is still surprised by the reaction and intensity of the audience. It's wonderfully thrilling to be backstage and hear the audience laughing at this hilarious story.
"It's essentially a story that pits the older generation against the younger and every moment is honest," he said, "there's no trickery or gags." Audiences are reacting so intensely because everyone can recognize themselves in the characters, he said. "The moment the play begins the conflict starts-that can be appreciated by any generation. And that's why it's so relevant: how we deal with our elders defines who we are."
Maloney describes his stubborn character as a man "who has sly eyes. He's been a farmer all his life and dealt with the land, cattle and the weather. So he's wise in certain ways but he doesn't speak much about his emotional, tender side.
"Like many Irish men of his generation, he is a controlling force, a tyrant, boss-man and captain. He doesn't want to give up and cede The Farm to someone who won't take care of it properly, or so he thinks."
His character's days are on the wane and he wants to ensure The Farm is left in capable hands. "The character is strong-willed and powerful. I'm channeling my own father to play this part," he said with a laugh. When he told his wife that his father served as motivation, she had a strong retort. "She said I didn't need to channel anyone, I only had to be myself," he said.
OUTSIDE MULLINGAR is a classic tale of fathers and sons as well as a love story. "It's like the old lion and the young lion," Maloney said, "about a powerful father who's getting weaker and the son who has to find his strength. The relationship is complicated, just like real life."
Maloney doesn't claim to be an expert on Irish farmers, but he senses some basic truth in the families' struggles. "They are hardworking people of a kind of simplicity," he explained. "All the days are alike on The Farm in a sense, where they have to fight the weather and keep the animals healthy. I suspect it's like that in America's farm country. There's a kind of hidden layer of the inner life and there's a strength that comes from enduring hardship and keeping things under wraps.
"Part of the play is based on that fact that we don't tell each other what we really feel. And repressed feelings eventually blow up. Feelings will erupt like a volcano," he said.
"One of the reasons this play is successful is because in our modern day's world of entertainment, we live in constant exposure to self-reference and irony and cynicism," he said. "This is a play told without irony or cynicism. There's a directness about the characters and sweetness to the play that's not sugar-coated, yet the play is unbelievably tender and sweet.
"Audiences haven't experienced this in a long time. It's like we went back to some deep story telling."
Maloney was a last-minute replacement to the cast, which was already rehearsing when he came on board. "I had very little time to prepare, and I worked day and night to learn the lines. I'm a character actor and generally would play one scene or maybe two in a play. This is for me a very large role and I didn't have to do much research on the character," he said. "I just thought of my father.
"Coming into the play later was good in the sense that it didn't give me the time to think about how daunting and hard it was. I learned that I'm capable of such a thing. Theater is like being a trapeze artist."
Fortunately, audiences have been wildly enthusiastic throughout the play, and no one has taken a tumble. "It's a near perfect work of art," Maloney said, "and I'm thrilled to be part of it."
Outside Mullingar is playing at the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St. (between Broadway & Eighth Avenue)
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus