There are a lot of things to think about after seeing Outside Mullingar. The new play by John Patrick Shanley (author of the fantastic Doubt) deals with themes of getting older, planning ahead for life, unrequited love, and death. It’s a lot to think about for sure, but it’s presented in such a light fashion that these themes are only subtly presented to the audience. When I went into the City Theatre Wednesday night for their production I was expecting something as heavy and dramatic as Doubt; I was given a much lighter experience instead. It wasn’t exactly a bad thing, but not quite what I was expecting.
Outside Mullingar focuses on two families living on adjacent farmland in Ireland. Widower Tony (Noble Shropshire) is nearing the end of his life (something he openly admits to) and is thinking of what all he will leave to his son Anthony (Ron Menzel). Their neighbor Rosemary (Megan Byrne) has a few things to say about it, all which come out when her and her recently widowed mother Aiofe (Mary Rawson) come by for a visit.
The opening scenes are all very charming, establishing the relationships between all the characters and allowing for some funny interactions. The parents argue with their children about a variety of subjects, and Shropshire and Rawson get some excellent lines in (“The wife always follows. You’ll be dead within the year.” Tony says matter-of-factly to Aiofe, who shrugs in agreement.) The relationship between the adult children is also seen; they appear to have a distaste for each other, but it’s clear Rosemary is quite smitten with Anthony.
After this scene time starts to progress. The most dramatic moments come in the form of a bedside scene between father and son, which Shropshire and Menzel play really well. The rest of the play then focuses on Rosemary and Anthony who suddenly find themselves alone but together (as Anthony says, they’re “right at the front” of the parade towards death). Their love story is a slow-building one, and while the actors do a lovely job creating these characters, I just wanted to yell “come on!” at them so they can just get together already.
Which brings me to the ending that I won’t spoil; there is a reason why Anthony isn’t romantically involved with Rosemary or anyone and it’s never made clear until the end. Even after I heard it, I still wasn’t sure if the play was being serious or not. I felt like I wasn’t in on some joke that everyone else was getting. I kept thinking “no really, what’s the reason?” but nothing was made clear to me. It was a bizarre ending (and sort of a twist) but to me it felt kind of anticlimactic and a little frustrating.
Not that any of that is the City Theatre’s fault (I’m waiting for John Patrick Shanley to return my calls) because they do deliver a solid production. Perhaps I went into the show in the wrong head space (“why don’t you read a review first, you dumb hypocrite?”), expecting a sort of heavy subject and instead being offered some nice light cookies as food for thought. My analogies are getting away from me, but you get the idea. Still there a good performances and some nice tech/design work in this production, so I’ll give it a recommendation if you’re in the mood for a sweet little story.
Presented by Pittsburgh City Theatre
Directed by Tracy Brigden
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Designed by Anne Mundell (scenery), Susan Tsu (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Almeda Beynon (sound)
Starring Megan Byrne (Rosemary), Ron Menzel (Anthony), Mary Rawson (Aoife), Noble Shropshire (Tony)
The play runs until November 2nd. Tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to City Theatre for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: October 15, 2014