BWW Review: Irish Tale OUTSIDE MULLINGAR Quietly Charms at Next Act Theatre

BWW Review: Irish Tale OUTSIDE MULLINGAR Quietly Charms at Next Act Theatre

"The middle. The middle is the best part. The middle of everything is always the heart of the thing." While John Patrick Shanley's Irish-romance-meets-family-dramedy deals with its share of beginnings and endings, Outside Mullingar is a play that finds its two main characters planted in the middle. Anthony and Rosemary are middle-aged and at the crossroads of their separate life paths. The question is: Will those paths converge?

The two grew up side by side on neighboring farms in Ireland with their families' combined history ever tied to the land-particularly a stretch of farm that should belong to Anthony but, due to a silly childhood tantrum, now belongs to Rosemary. The two bicker plenty, fight against their romantic inclinations, and have different ideas of what makes life worth living. Yet under it all, they care deeply.

This will-they-won't-they play is especially fun to watch thanks to the husband and wife team of David Cecsarini as Anthony and Deborah Staples as Rosemary. Staples is fiery and self-assured, beautifully rendering Shanley's poetic phrasing and moods with masterful grace.

Cecsarini maintains a sympathetic sort of mystery until his character's final charming curveball, revealed near the end of Act Two. It was a challenge, Cescarini said during a post-show talk back, to depict Anthony as a man caught under his father's thumb, while keeping him from being too dark and brooding.

James Pickering plays the aforementioned father's thumb, Tony. Pickering has a knack for portraying believable stodgy old coots that both mangle and melt hearts. Tony is an amalgam of motivations from family pride to legacy to the want of an eleventh-hour amends with his son. Pickering's final on-stage moments make the heart simultaneously ache and sigh; it's a lovely moment to behold.

Tony's elderly counterpart is Rosemary's mother, Aoife-a woman who has just lost her husband and is grappling with grief. Carrie Hitchcock is ever a chameleon, blending seamlessly into the roles she takes on, and Aoife is no exception. She draws laughter and the occasional welled-up tear in a memorable, moving performance that highlights the marvelous breadth and depth of Hitchcock's craft.

Seeing these four greats on one stage is a singular experience, so go see Outside Mullingar if you're a fan of Milwaukee theater. Go if you have an affinity for Ireland and if you enjoy a well-crafted slow burn. This is a story of family and feeling, with a fanciful little twist. Go if you like the thought of pondering the boxes we put ourselves in-what we believe can or can't be true for us, based on imaginary constructs. Outside Mullingar dares us to challenge those boxes and live knowing that "Life is here! We name it!"

Photo credit: Ross Zentner

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From This Author Kelsey Lawler

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