By Lucy Komisar
John Patrick Shanley‘s charming play about two lonely people who don‘t know how to express their feelings is a delightful channeling of Irish black humor. One should add that the two, Anthony Reilly (Brian F. O‘Byrne) and Rosemary Muldoon (Debra Messing) are both quite attractive, so their social awkwardness appears the result of living in an isolated farming corner of Ireland that lets you believe that people can exist for months, even years, without even talking to their neighbors – which when it comes to those two is the case. (So, suspend reality.)
Even so, the plot is a bit of a wonderful Irish shaggy dog story. Doug Hughes directs with a light touch that makes the absurdities seem plausible.
Anthony lives with his father Tony (Peter Maloney) in an old farm house that indicates the owners are not very prosperous: there‘s unfinished wood furniture, a kitchen table and chairs, a shabby stuffed chair and an old sink and washing machine.
The husband of neighbor Aoife Muldoon (the effervescent Dearbhla Molloy) has just died and she and her daughter Rosemary have stopped by the Maloneys, who live a stone‘s throw away on the bordering farm.
Tony tell Aoife, “When the husband goes, the wife follows, it‘s true. You‘ll be dead in a year.” His son declares indignantly, “She will not. She looks perfect.” But Tony ripostes, “Oh, the fruit still looks good when the worm starts his work.” Maloney is terrific as the red-faced Tony with white fluff around his head and the manner of a charmer. Easy for him to throw off jokes about death.
We don‘t immediately see Rosemary, because she is outside, in the rain. Her mother explains, “She won‘t smoke in front of me, and she‘s always smoking, so I never see her.”
Anthony is 42 and Rosemary is 36. O‘Bryne plays him as shy, moody, withdrawn. He seems still in mourning for a girl he loved and lost at 16. Messing‘s Rosemary is sharp, acerbic, tough, with a biting tongue. When we finally see her, she is smoking – a pipe!
Rosemary asks Anthony, “Have you ever heard from Fiona?” He hasn‘t. Fiona is married with a husband and three daughters. “And your heart‘s still broken?” Rosemary asks him, “Why didn‘t you just get over her like other people do?”
Shanley‘s comically sorrowful drama mines the nonsense of carrying the torch to extremes. But Rosemary is just as bad. She is harboring a grudge against his having pushed her down and left her crying in the yellow grass when she was 7 and he was 13. Talk about neither of them ever forgetting!
The story is slightly corny and often funny. That includes a bizarre part with a hidden story about Rosemary‘s family buying a piece of land that connected the neighbors‘ house to the road and then installing two gates on it that they would have to open every time they went between the house and the road. I liked the acerbic parts best.
A lot of time passes. Anthony seems unable to make contact with Rosemary, who is evidently pining for him, but not enough to end her tough demeanor.
By now, both parents have died and they are alone. Of course, the two will get together. There‘s a wonderful moment when Rosemary asks the shy fellow, “Have you ever wondered what I wore when I wore less?” And another when Anthony waxes poetic, declaring “I believe that I am a honey bee.” And she is……. Well, I don‘t want to spoil that bit of blarney!
“Outside Mullingar.” Written by John Patrick Shanley; directed by Doug Hughes. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened Jan 23, 2014; closes March 16, 2014. 3/1/14. Review on New York Theatre Wire.