December 2008, outside Killian, Ireland, on a cattle and sheep farm. This sets the scene for the plot to unfold, a plot that envelopes the very ideals of Irish living, ideaology, and culture. Directed by Susan Baer Collins, Outside Mullingar hooks you at the first line.
We open with Don Keelan-White as Tony Reilly, Da, (father,) to his son and farm hand Anthony Reilly. Keelan-White expresses an authentic persona, down to his thick Irish brogue. His humor is quick and dry, but it’s not lost on the audience. Many a chuckle elicits as people follow along with the story about his talk of funerals and “land grabbing.” Tony, who is ashamed his son takes after his wife’s family, The Kelly’s, (who are a bit odd on that side) assumes Anthony doesn’t have the gumption to be up to the task to take over the management of the farm when he is gone. The 42-year old farm hand lives under his father’s shadow. He is eager to prove his father wrong, take up farm duties and make something of himself.
Aiofe Muldoon, played by Judy Radcliffe, has perfected the Irish dialect with her enunciation and flowing speech pattern, like a gentle babbling brook over rolling Irish hills. She is the matriarch holding her family together and rules the roost ever since her husband passed away.
Chris Shonka is ideal in his portrayal as Anthony. Shonka is no stranger to playing the Irishman (he frequented the role when he acted in soap operas in New York.) An avid performer, director, and lecturer with a PhD in theatre history, Shonka aptly brings the character of Anthony to life with every nuance. With his smooth delivery of Irish sensibilities, his Anthony makes for an intriguing yet shy character that is interesting to watch.
An alluring tension starts to build when Aiofe’s daughter Rosemary Muldoon enters the equation, (Laura Beeghly). She plays the chain-smoking, spitfire character of Rosemary with a nonchalant ease that reads well and garners her a cold but hearty strength. Immediately we sense a deeper connection between the two, an unspoken attraction masked by the traditional expectations of farm life and neighborly etiquette.
Rosemary even goes as far as to have a tense encounter with Tony in which she convinces him to leave the farm to Anthony and not cut him out of his will.
As time goes on we learn that both Tony and Aiofe have passed and left their respective farms and land to their children. This allows for romance to truly burgeon as Anthony and Rosemary begin to spend more time together, eventually admitting their feelings for each other. Rosemary confides in Anthony and expresses that she is the “white swan from Swan Lake.” He responds fondly that if he is a bee, then she is a flower. I gathered this was meant to be metaphorical in nature, two Irish souls trying to find their way but serendipitously meant to be intertwined and connected to one another.
Lighting and sound effects were spot on, with scenes in a gloomy rain outdoors to inside the simple but cozy Muldoon home. A spotlight of guiding light is symbolic of Tony’s journey into the light after a long night of reflection, talking things over and making amends with his son. The fold-out set is a work of art itself, with pieces transitioning in and out, making for a cohesive, structural unit that serves each scene adequately. Following suit of some Broadway productions, OCP even cast standby actors to take on roles at a moment’s notice, should the need arise.
A heartfelt production, Outside Mullingar at the Omaha Community Playhouse is a uniquely and well directed play that will give you a glimpse into the lives of Irish folk, their struggles, hopes, and dreams. It’s a bittersweet love story, with a script chock full of charming, witty banter and an affinity for heritage that’s proudly Irish. Playwright John Patrick Shanley reconnected with his own Irish heritage in life when he was inspired to write it, making the play an ode of sorts to his homeland and the Celtic people. It’s beautifully acted, cleverly staged, and a great precursor to start off the Ides of March, right before St. Patrick’s Day celebrations commence.
Outside Mullingar plays through March 13th with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets start at $36 for members of the public and are $26 for OCP season subscribers. Prices vary by performance. Tickets available by phone, online, or in person. Masks are required and COVID protocols apply.