If you didn’t speak English, or could somehow turn off the sound of
“Outside Mullingar,” John Patrick Shanley’s charming, wonderfully acted and overly weird romantic comedy, the final scene between Debra Messing, making her Broadway debut, and Brian F. O’Byrne, reliable Broadway veteran, would be a hugely satisfying mime show about two shy middle aged people finally revealing their love for one another: awkward squirming turning to tense confrontation melting into relieved embrace.
But, alas, we have to listen as well to the last 10 minutes of this otherwise carefully crafted 95-minute play. If Shanley’s premise is a wee implausible, his resolution is as loony as his characters are supposed to be, and far less appealing. I won’t spoil the surprise ending, but it does a fine job on its own of spoiling what’s come before.
The Reillys and the Muldoons have owned neighboring farms in Ireland for generations. As the play begins, there’s been a funeral, and all who remain from the two clan are Anthony Reilly (O’Byrne) and his father Tony (the incomparable Peter Maloney); and Rosemary Muldoon (Messing) and her mother Aoife (a persuasive Dearbhla Molloy.) In seven scenes that unfold over several years, we learn that both mother and father are not long for this world, and that both are worried about their unmarried children; that Tony plans to sell the farm out from under his son Anthony to an American cousin, since he doesn’t believe that Anthony will ever get married, and because he questions Anthony’s sanity. We also learn that Rosemary has been secretly in love with Anthony since he accidentally knocked her over when she was seven years old and he had just turned 13. For his part, Anthony, shunned by a first love, has closed up, as resigned to sadness and solitude as he is to the rain and gloom of the Irish Midlands.
Shanley’s dialogue in the first few scenes is witty in subtler ways than his movie “Moonstruck.” There are a few touching moments, and insights into characters’ pessimism, dark moods, and insecurities, as well as ambiguities that suggest this is the same playwright who wrote “Doubt.” But mostly “Outside Mullingar” never pretends to be much more than a trifle – something close to an Irish folk tale, and ultimately a slice of blarney — by a talented Bronx-born playwright who may have watched too many Maureen O’Hara movies.
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At the Samuel J. Friedman Theater
By John Patrick Shanley; directed by Doug Hughes; sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Mark McCullough; music and sound by Fitz Patton; hair and wig design by Tom Watson
Cast: Brian F. O’Byrne (Anthony Reilly), Debra Messing (Rosemary Muldoon), Peter Maloney (Tony Reilly) and Dearbhla Molloy (Aoife Muldoon).
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission
Outside Mullingar is scheduled to run through March 16, 2014