Outside Mulligar by Pacific Theatre
Until June 10th
Quirky and sweet Irish Rom-Com with dark undercurrent and a brilliant leading man.
John Patrick Shanley knows how to craft idiosyncratic dialouge. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright has written over 25 plays (Four Dogs and a Bone, Doubt, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea) and he is a master of the callback / reincorporation for comic effect.
He also has a unique craftsmanship for a quirky joke. A character will make an odd observation or reveal EG: “Glass taste like teeth.” It hangs in the air for us to ponder and then a little later another character, often in another scene, will innocently state a line that explains it and the audience guffaws at the explanation.
He is also a master of creating flawed and dark characters that are trying to make sense of their existence.
Outside Mullingar opens on a small farm household just after a funeral. The father of the neighboring household has died and Tony is admonishing his son Anthony for inviting the widow and her daughter over for tea.
Tony opines that his son is mad in the head and widow Aoife thinks her daughter is mad at her and the world around her.
As the older folk discuss impending death outside their offspring argue over which of them is more cut off from life and the outside world. As Rosemary says “Who likes people? Nobody.”
The lamentations on life and death are heartbreakingly poignant and the eccentricity of the characters makes the laughter a welcome release.
The words are so wonderful and the Vancouver actors were challenged with the musicality of the Irish lilt and managed to sound very authentic.
The always magnetic Erla Faye Forsyth is simply delightful as the widow, so much so it is a tragedy that the character has so little stage time.
Artistic director Ron Reed plays the father Tony and brings his trademark warmth and fatherly charm to a rascal of a character.
Rebecca deBoer plays the fiery Rosemary. The character threatens to thrash Tony for a betrayal in regards to his son’s inheritance and her mother also speaks of her propensity for violence. Ms. deBoer could stand to be a little wilder and impulsive in her portrayal but she has nicely captured the inner longing of the character.
Angela Konrad directs and has the actors all bring grounded and truthful performances even as the script ventures into the preposterous. I think without going into stereotypes more Irish passion and fire would raise the stakes – in Act One particularly. When Rosemary discovers that a lifelong goal that she has planned for since she was 6 years old, something she has dreamed about and yearn for, hoped for and feared, is about to be scuttled her reaction and attempts to rectify the situation seemed more Canadian measured rather than quick tempered Irish.
However Ms. Konrad must have found a lot of four leaf clovers because her pot of gold in this production is John Emmet Tracy as the sensitive and quiet Anthony. The awkward flirting that happens between Antony (aged 48) and Rosemary (42) stretches over 3 years in the course of the play and so it also stretches credibility but Mr. Tracy makes it all seems plausible. So tortured and skittish by a deep secret (and trust me you won’t guess it) that you believe he can be that closed off from hope. His vulnerability and searching eyes wrapped in his gym fit body makes Anthony and conflicted and heartbreaking character.
There is another small issue with the set by Carolyn Rapanos. She has made an authentic looking small Irish kitchen for the Anthony and Tony to entertain in during Act One. In Act Two we have the final scene in Rosemary kitchen but since 3 years pass and the kitchen layout is identical it is disorienting, we wonder if Rosemary bought the men’s farm in the interim. Moving some of the wall units around and the table placement would have helped.
So there are a few things found wanting but in a script that is about desire and fear and bravery in the face of loneliness on one level the wanting fits right in.
In the end Outside Mullingar is charming; a laugh out loud tragic comedy about letting go of labels and fear. I guffawed at the characters foibles and odd worldview and then cried at their pain. The cast is alluring within the bizarre and heartbreaking world that John Patrick Shanley has created and it was thoroughly lovely place to visit.
David C. Jones