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Outside Mullingar

Chris Kendall as Tony Reilly
Chris Kendall as Tony Reilly
Photo: Michael Ensmingher
From reading John Patrick Shanley's Introduction to his play, in which he recounts his initial impressions from his first visit to Ireland in 1993, one would think his relatives and, indeed, all Irish mad. Gradually, though, Shanley was able to find a comfortable perspective from which to cajole enough recollections from his people to be able to ask himself "... how such wonderful eccentric folk as I saw around me were able to spring from such impoverished ground." By this, Shanley was not referring only to the hardscrabble life, but specifically to his grandparents, who lived a volatile and unhappy life.

In Outside Mullingar, Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and Joe vs. the Volcano) answers his own query with a delightful story full of hope and humor.

Emily Paton Davies
as Rosemary Muldoon (standing)
and Billie McBride
as Aoife Muldoon (seated)
Photo: Michael Ensmingher
In the aftermath of Chris Muldoon's burial, his widow, Aoife (Billie McBride), and her daughter, Rosemary (Emily Paton Davies), join their neighbors, Tony Reilly (Chris Kendall) and his son, Anthony (Timothy McCracken), for some talk and libations.

The combination of Shanley's witty dialogue and storytelling, the consistent work of the ensemble with the light Mullingar dialect (kudos to Gabriella Cavallero for her research and coaching), the refined intensity of the performances (directed with an expert hand by Rebecca Remaly), and Ron Mueller's seamless set, make for a wonderful 90 minutes filled with catharses for characters and audience alike.

Tim McCracken as Anthony Reilly
Tim McCracken as Anthony Reilly
Photo: Michael Ensmingher

Shanley's story cleverly weaves together the fate of the characters with their land. Tony criticizes Anthony's demeanor and threatens to will the farm to a nephew in the U.S. But before he can do that, he must get back a small parcel that provides access, which he sold to Chris years before, for a reason he is not ready to reveal. Aoife is aghast at the idea that Anthony, who works hard to keep the Reilly place going, would be disinherited, but she in unable to resolve Tony's problem, since there is a twist regarding the parcel's ownership. Anthony does his best to state his case, but it is Rosemary's tenacity, in holding steadfast to her life-long dream, that eventually resolves the issue.

Tim McCracken as Anthony Reilly and Emily Paton Davies as Rosemary Muldoon
Tim McCracken as Anthony Reilly
and Emily Paton Davies as Rosemary Muldoon
Photo: Michael Ensmingher
The friction between Tony and Anthony is visceral, with Kendall delivering an orneriness that does Shanley's memories (from his visit) proud. McBride counters this with a playful but firm goading that only an old friend can get away with. Unlike his father, Anthony holds his disappointment below the surface. McCracken turns Anthony's pain into a subtextual tension that prevents his character from following through on his desires, leaving it up to Davies who, with a twinkle in her eye and a wry smile, unlocks the emotional blockade.

Into this seemingly location-centric story, Shanley weaves a universal message, encouraging his characters and his audience to realize that every moment presents endless possibilities, if we're willing to drop worn out behaviors and beliefs.

Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's regional premiere of John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar runs through October 11th. For tickets: 303-444-7328 or betc.org/mullingar.

Bob Bows

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