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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre


  Brían F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing/ Ph: Joan Marcus

John Patrick Shanley’s new play Outside Mullingar is so Irish, you’d swear that Shanley was born on the Emerald Isle. Regardless of his Irish name and Irish blood, he was actually born in the Bronx in 1950. But hedoes an excellent impression of an Irish-born playwright in this well-drawn portrait of neighboring farm families and their land. While it’s not as rich and multi-layered as Shanley’s acclaimed Doubt, it’s a charming play with a tidy little story and four artfully delineated characters.
The first half takes place in the kitchen of Tony Reilly (Peter Maloney) and his son Anthony (Brían F. O’Byrne). Their newly widowed next-door neighbor Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy) is paying a visit. Tony tells her he’s thinking of selling his farm to his nephew, an American, instead of giving it to Anthony. His reasoning is that Anthony hasn’t shown any interest in getting married and takes after his mother’s family, the Kellys, more than the Reillys. Mrs. Muldoon tries to reason with him, mentioning that Anthony has spent his whole life working on the farm and loves the land. Her strong-willed, pipe-smoking daughter Rosemary (Debra Messing) is even more upset by Tony’s plan. She urges Anthony to stand up to his father. As it turns out, Rosemary also has some leverage over crusty old Tony.
Shanley belabors the question of whether Anthony will inherit the farm a bit too much. For a while it seems the play could use a subplot or two. But luckily the characters hold our attention and the dialogue always sounds authentic. (Messing’s Irish accent sounds authentic too – which is saying something since her three costars are Irish. Stephen Gabis was the dialect coach.) The second half of the 90-minute play takes place in the Muldoon kitchen, which is practically a mirror image of the Reilly kitchen. (John Lee Beatty designed the spot-on sets, which also include an outdoor location complete with never-ending rain.) In the second half we learn that the hot-tempered Rosemary has fancied quiet, shy Anthony for years. He once had a failed romance, and Rosemary wonders why he has never pursued her.
It’s a well-written, often funny scene that is likely to be as popular with acting students as the play will be with resident theaters. As performed here by the always outstanding O’Byrne and the appealing Messing, under Doug Hughes’ fine direction, it’s pretty well perfect. O’Byrne, best known for Doubt (also a Manhattan Theatre Club production), makes Anthony a bit of a loner and intriguingly enigmatic. Messing, best known as a comedienne on Will & Grace, makes use of her expert timing but also makes Rosemary believable and likable despite her domineering ways. Maloney and Molloy both look and sound just right as the elderly parents, who are tied to their land and have to figure out what should happen to it after they’re gone. Their decades of experience, along with their Irishness, help make Shanley’s dialogue sing.
If you’re not planning a trip to Ireland in the near future, Outside Mullingar provides a diverting jaunt to the soggy Irish countryside without leaving arctic Manhattan.


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