BWW Review: OUTSIDE MULLINGAR Charms at Keegan Theatre
John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar may not be as significant of a play as his award-winning Doubt, but with the right cast it can certainly be just as moving, but in a different way. This proves to be the case at Keegan Theatre. Looking at its strong history of presenting works set in Ireland, it's of little surprise that the ambitious small theatre company succeeds with this one as well. However, I would even go as far to say that it's one of Keegan's best productions of "Irish" plays to date.
Director Mark A. Rhea cast the show quite perfectly and as a collective unit the actors pull at your heartstrings throughout the doom and gloom, as well as the somewhat more unexpected lighter moments. Strong technical elements, particularly Tony Angelini's sound design and Patrick Lord's projection design, transport you to the small town of Mullingar and go a long way to set the dreary mood. Against the backdrop, some exceptionally believable performances emerge.
John Patrick Shanley's play is part family drama, part romantic comedy with an Irish twist. No matter how you slice it, it's exceedingly charming and down-to-earth.
Rosemary (Susan Marie Rhea) and Anthony (Brandon McCoy) have been neighbors their whole lives. They're both farm kids, but they have a bit of a complicated history. Rosemary still remembers when Anthony, then a teenager, pushed her down when she was but six years old and continues to hold a grudge. This incident comes up when his father Tony (Kevin Adams) begins to talk matters of inheritance with Rosemary's mother Aoife (Rena Cherry Brown).
Aofie's husband Christopher has just died and Aofie pays her neighbor a visit following the funeral. Matters of death are on both of their minds as they sit around the table at Tony's less-than-perfect kitchen (set design by Matthew Keenan). Tony and Aofie are also in poor health, and recognize they also won't be around forever. Tony wants to prepare for the inevitable, but rather than leaving the farm to his son Anthony (who, though a hard worker, often has his head in the clouds as he wanders the fields), he's interested in selling it to an American relative in search of a good Irish wife. He needs Aofie's help though. There's one drawback to his farm. There's no road access because he does not own the small patch of land between his property and the road. Tony hopes Aofie can give the land to him so the farm is more enticing to a would-be buyer. It turns out that she does not own it - Rosemary does. Strong-willed even then, Rosemary convinced her father to give her the land after the aforementioned pushing incident (always resourceful, that one).
Though both brooding, Rosemary and Anthony have dreams that would take them away from their small-town life in this economically depressed area. Yet, they both feel an obligation to continue to work their parents' farms even after they're gone. Rosemary, despite her grudge, has very strong feelings about the matter of who inherits Tony's farm - for reasons she makes abundantly clear - and influences the decision. Tony and Aofie eventually die (so Irish). Time passes and both Rosemary and Anthony continue to work the lands they inherited. Truths begin to emerge as Rosemary and Anthony begin to interact with each other every so often (but not without hostility) in day-to-day life.
One day Rosemary convinces Anthony to actually come into her house. As thunderous rain (depicted well with Patrick Lord's projections, Tony Angelini's sound design, and Dan Martin's lighting design) falls a life-changing conversation happens. Though its initially extremely awkward, the two share their true feelings towards one another as well as other secrets (which won't be spoiled here).
The complexities in Anthony and Rosemary's relationship - and their quirkiness as individuals - need to be factor into the performances of any actors cast in these roles. McCoy and Rhea are up to the challenge and then some - complete with believable Irish accents. They give some of the finest and most believable performances I've seen at Keegan in years and embrace the weirdness of each of their characters. Their chemistry is a key ingredient for the production's success. Kevin Adams and Rena Cherry Brown embrace the gloomy nature of the parental figures and have an uncanny ability to deliver humor in the midst of some pretty dark conversations. The ease in which they communicate during the initial scene sets the foundation for a wholly believable theatrical experience the entire evening.
This rewarding theatrical experience is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the power of love, memory, and family in a small Irish town.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one intermission.
OUTSIDE MULLINGAR plays at Keegan Theatre - 1742 Church St in Washington, DC - through May 28, 2017. For tickets, call the box office at 202-265-3767 or purchase them online.
Photo: Brandon McCoy and Susan Marie Rhea pictured; by Cameron Whitman Photography.