Prolific American playwright John Patrick Shanley (author of about two dozen plays including Doubt and Moonstruck) received a Tony nomination in 2014 for Outside Mullingar. I’m not really sure why.
I found the plot of Outside Mullingar to be rather thin. Middle-aged Anthony and Rosemary have lived all their lives on adjacent farms in modern rural Ireland. Anthony is clueless that Rosemary carries a torch for him. Rosemary lives with her recently widowed mother, Aoife. Anthony lives with his widower father, Tony. Tony is threatening to leave the farm to an American nephew rather than to Anthony. Since Anthony doesn’t much like farming (neither does Rosemary), this isn’t as awful as it might seem, save that it would mean Anthony would move away from Rosemary. Both Aoife and Tony are frail and talk openly about dying soon. Both Rosemary and Anthony are plagued by depression (and it always seems to be raining). Anthony hates confrontation but Rosemary is feisty. Within the first 10 minutes of the play, you can see how the plot will unfold. But it takes an awfully long time for things to move forward, before the intermission releases the audience from their seats. The pace picks up in the final act. There are more humourous lines, too. But by then I’d lost patience with the play.
I’m not an expert in Irish culture. I’ve never been to Ireland, much less spent time on an Irish farm. Nevertheless, I found Shanley’s characters stereotypical and couldn’t believe they were real people. The irascible old curmudgeon. The acid-tongued crone. The hopeless hapless younger folk who can’t seem to get out of first gear and do something—anything!—with their lives. And everyone, young and old, steeped in superstitions and clinging to memories of long-ago slights.
Four excellent actors ameliorate some of the play’s flaws. I’ve always enjoyed performances by Kate Smith, who plays Rosemary, and Beverley Wolfe, who steals every scene she’s in as Aoife. Out-of-towners Vince Carlin, who plays Tony, and Daniel Gervais, who plays Anthony, were Smith and Wolfe’s equals. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of their Irish country accents, but they sounded very natural to me.
My hope is that Dave Dawson, the director of Black Sheep Theatre Company, chooses a play more worthy of the talented actors available to him the next time Black Sheep stages something at The Gladstone.
Outside Mullingar is at The Gladstone Theatre until May 6. The performance starts at 7:30pm and is approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes long with one intermission. Information and tickets at www.thegladstone.ca/outside-mullingar/