Directed by René Moreno
Stage Manager – Hillary Collazo Abbott
Assistant Stage Manager – Seth Monhollon
Set Design – Michael Sullivan
Lighting Design – Jason S. Foster
Costume Design – Barbara C. Cox
Sound Design – Ryan Swift Joyner
Anthony Reilly – Jeremy Schwartz
Rosemary Muldoon – Jessica Cavanaugh
Tony Reilly – John S. Davies
Aoife Muldoon – Gail Cronauer
Photo by Karen Almond
Reviewed Performance 6/6/2016
Reviewed by Rachel Elizabeth Khoriander, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Premiering on Broadway in early 2014, Outside Mullingar is one of the more recent plays by John Patrick Shanley, the playwright, screenwriter, and director who you may recognize as the author of Pulitzer-and-Tony-winning Doubt: A Parable. Shanley has also had an illustrious career in Hollywood, winning an Academy Award in 1988 for his original screenplay, Moonstruck, and directing the film version of Doubt in 2008.
Born in the Bronx to Irish parents, Shanley shied away from visiting Ireland until he was over 40 and his aged father, who could no longer travel alone, asked Shanley to take him home. Once there, Shanley fell in love with the people, the land, and, unsurprisingly (since he began his career as a poet), the language. Still, he didn’t feel the urge to write about any of it until he experienced a personal crisis upon turning 60. As Shanley tells it, soon after his crisis, he sat down to write and a play about the family farm inexplicably came out. But Outside Mullingar is about so much more than the family farm.
Set in the Midlands of Ireland, the play involves two neighboring middle-aged farmers, Anthony and Rosemary, whose families are involved in a land dispute. We quickly learn that Rosemary has been in love with Anthony for all her life, but that Anthony is unaware of Rosemary’s feelings. And so we watch as Anthony and Rosemary move ever closer to a potential happy ending.
A romantic drama, Outside Mullingar is one of Shanley’s lighter plays, full of warm humor and tender moments, but it still contains some darker musings on grief, resentment, and the fleeting opportunities granted by life. In short, Outside Mullingar is about the many facets of love.
Never is this clearer than in WaterTower’s production of Outside Mullingar, which feels like a labor of love for both its artistic and technical teams, led by Director René Moreno.
Jessica Cavanaugh plays quirky Rosemary and instills her character with a feistiness that offsets any potential coldness. Cavanaugh’s Rosemary may have sharp edges, but she has stockpiles of compassion and devotion buried beneath her irritability. Rosemary’s secret life-long pining for Anthony seems a bit odd given her fieriness, but Cavanaugh’s performance convinces us that she has a strain of stubbornness and, despite her protestations, a strong regard for tradition that keeps her waiting. Additionally, the dialogue in Outside Mullingar is filled with witty repartee and argument, and Cavanaugh has great timing. The perfect tempo of her Irish brogue and her razor-sharp delivery and expressive eyes make her alternately amusing, compassionate, and indomitable. Cavanaugh’s Rosemary is a force to be reckoned with.
Jeremy Schwartz plays downtrodden Anthony with a palpable otherworldliness. Early in the play, Schwartz’s uncertain posturing and wrenching facial expressions suggest conflicting emotions concerning the family farm. His Anthony seems haunted—haunted by his deceased mother, haunted by the land, and haunted by something we can’t quite figure out. Because of his taciturn nature, the character of Anthony could easily be fashioned into an overly maudlin, petulant bore, but Schwartz creates a sympathetic and layered character. And, though the match-up between Rosemary and Anthony may seem odd at first, Schwartz ultimately conveys integrity and sweetness that, when joined by the strength of will he periodically displays, persuade us that Rosemary’s attraction to Anthony is credible. Schwartz is at his best during moments when Anthony is provoked into an emotional outburst by either Rosemary or his father. The intensity and suddenness of Schwartz’s rage hint at a strength and hidden pain lurking just beneath Anthony’s surface, and make the grief evident upon his father’s death all the more convincing and heartbreaking.
Rounding out the cast of characters are Anthony’s ornery father, Tony, played with great charm by John S. Davies, and Aoife, Rosemary’s quick-witted mother, played by Gail Cronauer. Both are delightful throughout their frisky bantering and, though playing smaller roles, are highly memorable. Davies is particularly affecting during the final moments Tony spends with his son, and Cronauer’s delivery of one of Aoife’s key lines is heartfelt and meaningful. “The middle is the best part,” Aoife says. “The middle of anything is the heart of the thing.”
One of the things at the middle of this play is the land, and Set Designer Michael Sullivan gently reminds us of that with an elaborate rotating set that is overhung by panels representing the rolling green hills of Ireland. The set is meticulously designed with lovely details. Anthony and Tony’s kitchen looks like something out of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with an old stove, a dirty sink stacked with dishes, angular wooden furniture and wall shelves, and Tony’s broken-in old armchair. Similarly, Tony’s bedroom is full of detail and reminders of cultural mythology, his sparse iron bed filled with fluffed covers, a porcelain pitcher and basin sitting on his dresser, and a crucifix hung on the wall. In contrast, Rosemary’s home is filled with rounder shapes and lighter colors—her kitchen table and chairs, a china cabinet. Still, whether we are inside the disheveled kitchen of Anthony and Tony, Tony’s sparse bedroom, or the cheery home of Rosemary, that rolling greenery lurks in the background, reminding us that all of the characters in Outside Mullingar are confined by not only the drizzling rain that falls continuously, but also by the past.
Costuming also emphasizes the role the past plays in the character’s lives. Each character is clothed in what appears to be what was popular during a different time in their lives. The cut of Tony’s trousers and button-down vest are reminiscent of an earlier age, as is Aoife’s black mourning dress and veil. Even Anthony and Rosemary seem clothed from a slightly earlier time in their lives, though their clothes are certainly more modern.
Along with the set and costuming, the lighting and sound work seamlessly to emphasize different themes in the play. Some fairly realistic rain can often be heard falling outside and a lightning strike can be seen against the cheerless blue-gray sky. It is only when Rosemary and Anthony confront one another that a warm glow overtakes the stage and the sun begins to shine.
The glowing ending may seem a bit unlikely, but that’s part of the charm of this play. It’s highly traditional and often follows the dictates of what we expect from a romantic comedy while adding a touch of unexpected (and sometimes unbelievable) whimsy here and there. You may not buy into the storyline completely, but Shanley’s humor and the affectionate and likable characters created by the cast make you more than willing to forgive any foibles in the script. It may take five years (or, ultimately, half their lives) for Rosemary and Anthony to come together, but WaterTower’s 95-minute production (with no intermission) flies by. I was surprised and a bit disappointed when the play ended, as I had grown quite fond of Rosemary and Anthony and had become entranced by their language and wit. Outside Mullingar may raise less complicated questions than some of Shanley’s other work, but it is sweet and entertaining, and the WaterTower cast fully rounds its characters, emphasizing the humanity of it all.
WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through June 26th.
Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm. Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, with matinees on Saturday (June 18th and 25th only) and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Ticket prices for Wednesday performances are $29.00. Tickets for Thursday and Friday performances are $30.00. Tickets for Saturday matinee performances are $25.00. Tickets for Saturday night and Sunday matinee performances are $40.00. Groups of 10 or more receive $3.00 off the cost of admission. Student rush tickets cost $12.00 and are available 15 minutes before curtain time (subject to availability). Students and seniors receive $3.00 discounts on tickets at Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday matinee performances.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.watertowertheatre.org/, or call the box office at 972-450-6232.