BWW Review: OUTSIDE MULLINGAR at AIRE
Love makes the world go around, even when it seems to have stopped in its tracks. Such is the message of "Outside Mullingar," a romantic comedy that's perfect for the return of the American Irish Repertory Ensemble (AIRE).
John Patrick Shanley's 2014 play, considered by many to be his best since his hugely successful "Doubt," is a lyrical ode to a hopeful perseverance. That was something certainly needed after the terrible auto accident of a few years ago that took the life of Susan Reilly and severely injured her husband Tony Reilly. Susan and Tony were the co-founders of AIRE.
Through the efforts of a recovered Tony Reilly and the many AIRE supporters and friends, the tough but often tender Irish stories and characters that the two loved to present are returning to the stage at the intimate Studio Theater in Portland.
The play concerns the crusty old widower Tony Reilly (played by Tony Reilly!) and his adult son Anthony who maintain a cattle and sheep farm in early 21st-century Ireland. Despite the younger Reilly doing most of the work of late, Tony is not sure Anthony has his heart in it and threatens, employing a potent mixture of unvarnished insult and insidious guilt-tripping, to leave the place to a nephew from America.
When the recently-widowed neighbor Aoife Muldoon and her adult daughter Rosemary come for a visit, sparks begin to fly. Though it's clear the four have an affection for each other, they also have a history of family and personal resentments and frustrations through which they must find their way.
Aoife, played by Maureen Butler, is no shrinking violet when it comes to asserting the force of a hard-earned wisdom. The audience is treated to a blustery and very funny verbal joust as to who can spout the driest homespun philosophy about life, love, marriage and death. Butler and Reilly both know their way around these folk's beliefs and attitudes and are a treat to see in action.
The tough-talking Rosemary, who claims she's been "older than all of you since I was born," comes to Anthony's defense noting that he "loves those fields" that he often walks through alone.
It's not giving away too much to say that Rosemary has personal reasons for wanting to keep Anthony nearby. The second half of the 90-minute-without-intermission play reveals a slowly, and often sweetly hilarious, romance developing as the two, approaching-middle-age characters take over their inherited properties and their own destinies.
Joe Bearor, as the introverted Anthony, and Janice Gardner, as the sensitive but tenacious Rosemary, establish their character's delicate chemistry amid talk of swans, bees and madness. These engaging scenes are well-realized, with an eye and ear to the rhythms of high-stakes but still friendly verbal sparring, under the direction of Daniel Burson.
The outcome is in little doubt. But the fun is in how the AIRE cast members (accents well-studied) embody Shanley's artful and kindhearted way of taking the audience from here to there.
Sets by Stacey Koloski, lighting by Michaela Denoncourt, costumes by Kate Egan and sound by Chris Fitze combine to establish the rainy, rural places where love must survive.
The return of the American Irish Repertory Ensemble reaffirms Rosemary Muldoon's observation, as she finally embraces Anthony, that "There's beauty in this."
"Outside Mullingar" by John Patrick Shanley
American Irish Repertory Ensemble
Reviewed April 6; runs through April 22, 2018
Studio Theater at 25A Forest Ave, Portland, ME
photos by Craig Robinson courtesy of AIRE.