A rather unconventional courtship is taking place at the Samuel J. Friedman theatre where John Patrick Shanley’s quirky, romantic comedy, Outside Mullingar, is now playing.
Debra Messing is Rosemary Muldoon, a no-nonsense woman of the land who, now that her father has just passed away, must run the family farm on her own. Brian O’Byrne is Anthony Reilly, a melancholy loner who operates a farm adjacent to Rosemary’s spread in the Irish countryside. The two, nearing 40 years of age, have known each other since they were little tykes. While acquaintances, their relationship has never progressed beyond a standoffish association, much to the chagrin of Rosemary. Their connection is thrown into flux after her father’s funeral when she and Anthony, along with her mother and his father, gather in the Reilly kitchen to reminisce, bicker, and open old wounds. A minor land feud and talk of disinheritance then sets the plot into motion, which after the death of the aged parents, propels the show’s romance forward.
Shanley, who won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Doubt as well as an Academy Award for the screenplay of Moonstruck, has written a somewhat screwball comedy, idiosyncratic in nature that slowly builds to its satisfying conclusion. His two central characters—Rosemary and Anthony—are richly layered with enough foibles and eccentricities to populate all the towns folk in their quaint village.
Debra Messing’s is highly satisfying in her return to the stage. She is decidedly unglamorous in her portrayal of Rosemary as the actress plays against type from her two most well-known roles, in the television shows, Will and Grace and Smash. She is candid, outspoken, and straight-shooting, yet there is also a degree of vulnerability and sadness to her character.
Brian O’Byrne is marvelous as the brooding, disheartened Anthony. He is defensive and low-key, but underneath yearning to assert his manhood and place in society. You feel for him, a bundle of nervous uneasiness seeking his last chance at happiness.
Peter Maloney as the elder Reilly and Dearhbla Molloy as the patriarch, Aoife Muldoon, are masterful during their time on stage, whether delivering comic zingers or emotional lamentations. Their performances form the perfect ying to their younger counterpart’s yang.
Director Doug Hughes allows the action to unfold slowly and deliberately, never pushing too hard for a quick resolution. He gives the actors enough room to develop their character’s quirks and insecurities in an honest, matter-of-fact fashion.
Outside Mullingar, a perfect valentine to share with that special someone, now through March 16th.