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‘Outside Mullingar’ study in overcoming obstacles to intimacy


Outside Mullingar Promo 14The worst thing about Florida Rep’s production of Outside Mullingar is the ending. Not that it’s unsatisfying. It’s just that as the play draws to a close, you realize in the pit of your stomach that you’ve just experienced something quite special and extraordinary and now it’s over and time to go home.

Mulligar Photos 02Avid readers experience the same phenomenon when they reach the final chapter of that terrific read. But even if you re-read the book, or in this case, buy another ticket and watch the play again, it won’t afford the same marvel, sense of wonderment and surprise twists and turns.

The story takes place on two quaint farms in the hinterland outside the market town of Mullingar in WOutside Looking In 2estmeath County, Ireland. A woman by the name of Aoife (played by Viki Boyle) has just buried her husband and reason d’etre, Christopher Muldoon. As a chill rain pours down outside, she takes refuge inside the house of her neighbor, Tony Reilly (Martin LaPlatney), for a slice of nostalgic reminiscing and a spot of Irish tea. Gruff and completely lacking in people skills and social etiquette, Mulligar Photos 05Tony tells her after a while,“You’ll be dead within a year.” Tony’s devoted and longsuffering 42-year-old son, Anthony (Brendan Powers), interrupts his efforts to tidy up the kitchen to chastise his father. Nodding, Tony quickly adds, “Me? I’ll be dead in two months.”

While it might seem at first blush that he was trying to ameliorate his faux pas, his outlandish comments wMulligar Photos 01ere merely the macabre set-up for what’s actually on Tony’s mind. Cognizant that his body is giving out, he wants to sell his spread to a nephew in America and give Anthony the money so that he’ll be free to flee the farm. When Anthony objects, Tony stubbornly, almost belligerently chides his son. “You don’t stand on the land and draw strength from it.” He’s a Kelly, after all, not a Reilly. Outside Mullingar Promo 17To Tony’s way of thinking, his son is not now , and never has been, a farmer at heart or in his soul.

But Tony cannot sell his farm to his nephew, or anyone else, until Aoife parts with the piece of property that cuts off access to the Reilly farm. Tony sold it to Chris Muldoon when he needed money and by Outside Looking In 1inviting Aoife to confront her fairly imminent demise, he hopes to induce her to resell the strip to him seeing as how she won’t have any further use for it in a mere matter of months anyway. Better to sell and give her own daughter the money, just like he intends to do with his farm and Anthony.

But Aoife doesn’t own that outparcel any longer. Her husband deeded it over to their daughter, Rosemary (Rachel Burttram), wMulligar Photos 04Lho demanded the title when she was just six years old. Anthony, then 13, knocked her to the ground without so much as an acknowledgement, never mind an apology, and she’s held it against him ever since. In fact, the audience discovers in short order that the headstrong and fiery redhead would rather stand outside in a downpour smoking a pipe than come inside and endure Anthony’s presence. Good luck getting her to part with that land!

BRachel 04ut it’s clear from the way Rosemary looks at Anthony, talks to and about Anthony, and the way her breath catches in her throat whenever he’s around, that she’s in love with him and has been from the day he pushed her down. But for some strange reason, Anthony seems oblivious to her longing and incapable of accepting and reciprocating her affection even though there’s been no one in his life since he and his childhood girlfriend, Fiona, broke up when he was all of 16. It’s so fundamentally perplexing that Rosemary wonders if he’s gay or even impotent. But Anthony harbors a deep, dark secret, which he guards more closely than a leprechaun protects his hoard of gold coins.

Outside Mullingar Promo 15More cannot be said without giving away the many surprises that are revealed in the exchanges and interactions that take place between these two romantically inexperienced, isolated and lonely middle-aged adults. The play’s tagline states that Outside Mullingar is a play about love, longing and loss, but it’s more about the necessity for revealing the worst parts of ourselves in order to achieve true intimacy. And that’s just too scary for some of us, particularly if we’re risk averse.

With all of this as backdrop, there are three reasons why you’ll find this production so remarkable. First is John Patrick Shanley’s deft and lyrical dialogue. If you’re a fan of a poetic turn of phrase, you will be Outside Mullingar Promo 16absolutely enraptured by this play. In case you’re not familiar with Shanley’s body of work, he won a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for Doubt and an Oscar for the screenplay of Moonstruck. Only this time, he takes his exploration of the extent people go to protect their perceived shortcomings at the expense of love and happiness to Ireland, where he gets to incorporate idioms and constructs that are unique to Irish culture.

Second is the quality of the acting in Florida Rep’s production of the play. In a word, each actor’s performance is impeccable. Vicki Boyle and Martin LaPlatney imbue their characters with the wisdom that comes fOutside Mullingar Promo 18rom a hardscrabble life, bitter disappointments and the dawning realization that their time in this world is extremely short and not to be wasted. And it’s precisely because LaPlatney recreates his character as an unapologetic cantankerous old curmudgeon that he is able to elicit streams of warm tears from the audience in his deathbed scene near the end of the play’s first act.

Outside Mullingar Promo 13Enough good cannot be said about Burttram’s performance. Before even uttering a word, Burttram encapsulates the full and rich panoply of her character’s emotions and motivations with the daggers she emits from her eyes. They fix, hold and skewer Anthony Reilly while simultaneously betraying the yearning she feels for his embrace (though she knows full well that her love may forever go uOutside Mullingar Promo 2nrequited). Burttram routinely amazes audiences with moving renditions of deep and complex characters (like Carrie Berniers in the Lillian Hellman classic, Toys in the Attic). But she’s upped the ante in Outside Mullingar, where she must convey the vulnerability and passion of decades-long desire while maintaining the emotional armor needed to protect her heart from the real possibility of even more rejection and disappointment.

Brendan Powers matches the depth and strength of Burttram’s performance, although in his case, the character of Anthony Reilly calls for far more nuance and subtlety. Though devoted to the land he farms and the father who fails to appreciate the effort, he also resents his indentured servitude and de facto fealty. His soul was meant to soar in the fields, not till the fallow earth, but his is a life of continual denial of his true inner self based on his life experience of non-acceptance by the people who matter most. Powers embraces all these internal conflicts and self-inflicted strife in his portrayal of Anthony Reilly. But more, he reaches into the depths of his own being to enable the audience to see that the problem with his character is not that he loves too little, but rather that he loves too much – and is deathly afraid to show it. Powers’ performance is a joy to watch.

Adding to the overall effect is the set that Richard Crowell has created for Outside Mullingar. It is so quaint and cozy that the audience can’t help but feel like they’re part of the action rather than mere spectators. And that’s no small feat given that the stage is set in the middle of two opposing rows of tiered seats so that you at all times see reflected back on the faces of the audience across the stage the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing yourself.

If the set serves as a fifth character, the sounds provided by Sound Designer John Kiselica serve as a sixth persona. The patter of falling rain draws the audience in and makes it want to seek the warmth and comfort of the Reilly farmhouse in a way that is immediate, direct and palpable.

In sum, this is an extremely well-written, exceptionally well-acted, and finely directed production. It’s a rare and special piece of theater that you don’t want to miss.

October 1, 2017.


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