Coming from the guy who wrote the screenplay for Moonstruck, it’s not surprising that John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar is a beguiling romantic comedy that has just as much bite as it does heart. Anthony (Brian F. O’Byrne) and Rosemary (Debra Messing) live on two neighboring farms just outside of the Irish country town of Mullingar. He’s painfully shy and she’s hard as tacks – and then there’s the issue of their families’ squabbles over real estate. Still, there’s undoubtedly something going on under the surface between the two, but just what is it?
Shanley’s a savvy enough playwright to make the play about more than just these two. Peter Maloney is terrific as Anthony’s crusty father Tony, who’s perhaps overly cautious about the idea of leaving Anthony the farm (or is he?). The play is almost as much about their relationship as it is about Rosemary, and the father’s last scene with his son is as touching as anything else in the entire play.
Messing, bravely and mostly successfully attempting an Irish accent, displays all kinds of colors and tones, nicely filling out the emotional life of this tough lady. O’Byrne – who unsurprisingly has the accent down cold – beautifully underplays Anthony’s eccentricity throughout. Director Doug Hughes, who also helmed Shanley’s austerely serious Doubt, underlines this play’s comedy without overwhelming its serious themes and gentle flavor.
It’s definitely not the “big idea” play that Doubt is, but Outside Mullingar is charming without being truly fluffy. In true Irish fashion, despair and difficulty are somehow rendered beautiful and even enticing. Recommended.
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