By John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Angela Konrad. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on May 20. Continues until June 10
American playwright John Patrick Shanley admits, in a preface to Outside Mullingar, that he spent much of his writing career resisting his Irish roots. A few years ago, he finally embraced them, and this script, exquisitely realized by Pacific Theatre, is the thoroughly delightful result.
The play, set in rural Ireland, opens as Tony and his son, Anthony, return home from the funeral of a neighbour. The neighbour’s widow, Aoife, joins them for tea while her adult daughter, Rosemary, smokes outside. The opening scene establishes the eccentric rhythms that make simple interactions hilarious. “When the husband goes, the wife soon follows, it’s true,” Tony offers cheerfully. “I’ll be dead in a year,” Aoife laments. “Half a year,” replies Tony.
But Tony’s getting on too, and he’s not sure that Anthony’s up to the management of the farm. “You don’t stand on the land and draw strength from it,” he complains to his son. “There’s no joy in it.”
Now in his early 40s, Anthony has never gotten over a teenage heartbreak, and he’s learned not to stick up for himself. Tony has an American nephew in mind to take over instead, but first he needs Aoife to sell back the right of way between the properties that he sold to her husband decades earlier. That strip of land officially belongs to Rosemary, who’s apparently been holding a grudge against Anthony since he pushed her down when she was six. But what’s really between them takes the rest of the play to tease out.
There’s fun to be had in the machinations of the plot, and the pleasures of Shanley’s dialogue are bottomless. Aoife declines an offer of stout: “From the bottle tastes of glass,” she complains. Rosemary, the play’s most assertive character, lays down the law for her elders: “I’ve been older than all of you since the day I was born,” she declares. And that nephew in the States? “He looks like a stump,” says Aoife. “He has hands like feet,” says Tony. These are words you want to lie down and roll around in.
Under Angela Konrad’s direction, this excellent cast finds every drop of humour and heart in Shanley’s idiosyncratic characters. John Emmet Tracy’s Anthony looks fit to crawl out of his skin most of the time; his self-annihilating presence is hilarious and touching. Rebecca deBoer’s delight in Rose’s boldness is infectious. The exchanges between Ron Reed’s Tony and Erla Faye Forsyth’s Aoife are a lesson in comic rhythm.
Lauchlin Johnston’s lighting delineates both a rainy landscape and the warm respite of set designer Carolyn Rapanos’s country kitchen. That warmth is echoed in Julie Casselman’s sound design, which draws on traditional Irish fiddle tunes.
Tear yourself away from the sunshine long enough to visit this enchanted piece of the Irish countryside. Your heart will thank you.