Rosebud's Outside Mullingar a gem of an Irish drama

by Louis B. Hobson

As you drive out to Rosebud to see their production of John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar – and you really should be making plans to drive out as quickly as possible – you need only to know two things.

Shanley is Irish and he’s the man who wrote the screenplay for the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck that nabbed Oscars for both Cher and Olympia Dukakis.

Irish dramas are pretty heady stuff full of recriminations, sorrow, loss of innocence and loss of hope, but when those same playwrights use a much lighter touch it’s as if a leprechaun was at the computer keyboard.

This is very much the case with Outside Mullingar, which is unapologetically romantic and unabashedly raucous, sometimes simultaneously.

Like so many a good Irish plays, this one opens shortly after a funeral.

Aoife Muldoon (Judith Buchan) has just buried her husband.

She and her daughter Rosemary (Heather Pattengale) are stopping over at the home of their neighbour Tony Reilly (John Innes) and his son Anthony (Paul F. Muir)  for a cup of tea or perhaps a pint of stout.

It’s not long before Aoife, Tony and Anthony’s conversation is drenched in talk of death, land and progeny.

Rosemary is outside in the pouring rain, smoking and steeling herself for another heated argument with the two Reilly men.

Tony knows a secret about his son that is prompting him to reconsider willing the land to Anthony.

There’s a cousin in America who might be a better choice because he will give Tony grandchildren even if Tony doesn’t live long enough to see them.

In short order we learn that Rosemary has had a crush on Tony since they were children and she’s not the kind of woman who gives up easily, but Anthony seems oblivious to her feelings for him.

You may think you know where the plot will take you and maybe you do but you won’t likely know how it is going to take you there.

That’s the magic of Shanley’s little comedy.

Talking about magic there’s a bit of Irish tomfoolery in Outside Mullingar that is deliciously silly but Shanley and Rosebud’s stellar cast pull it off in aces.

Outside Mullingar boasts an outstanding quartet.

Buchan and Innes are lovable curmudgeons and they bring such life to all the exposition they have to deliver in the first 20 minutes of the play.

There is a scene between Innes and Muir when father and son finally confess how much they love each other that is heart wrenching because it is so honest, painful and sincere.

A lesser director than Morris Ertman would have closed this scene with a blackout but Innes’ exit from the stage is devastatingly beautiful.

The final 30 minutes of the play, when Anthony finally visits Rosemary at her home which is really just a spitting distance from his own, is a no holds barred battle of the sexes.

You expect that at any moment Pattengale will put Muir in a head lock and you wouldn’t blame her.

A girl shouldn’t have to be this forthright and honest to get a man to admit his true feelings, but Shanley makes Rosemary fight for for those warm and tender words of love.

I am a fan of Shanley’s writing and of Ertman’s direction but I was not prepared to be moved as deeply to both laughter and tears as I was in this wonderful little gem of a play and gem of a production.

Outside Mullingar runs at Rosebud until June 11 and in keeping with the Irish theme, the buffet is serving corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew.


Rosebud Theatre until June 11

Directed by Morris Ertman




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