Feeling droopy, as if you need to dip your candy canes in Prozac? Copious cheer (of the non-holiday variety) greets you at Everyman Theatre via the lovely, loving production of Outside Mullingar, which has the power to revive wilting spirits and restore your faith in romance and, what the heck, even mankind.
Director Donald Hicken handles John Patrick Shanley’s lilting comedy with gentle flair, never laying on the Irish charm too thickly or forcing the whimsicality of this unlikely love story. Set on adjoining farms in rural Ireland, Outside Mullingar is a tender take on the chalk-and-cheese pairing of two awfully odd ducks.
The joy begins pre-show, as sound designer Phillip Owen fills the air with invigorating Irish reels as you settle into your seat and take in set designer Daniel Ettinger’s curtain–a weathered, painted wood landscape of the Irish countryside with rolling fields so green and clouds so cottony you can practically smell the peat and heather.
The wood panels part to reveal the careworn bachelor kitchen of elderly Tony (Wil Love) and his son Anthony (Tim Getman), a fortyish man almost painfully out of sync with his surroundings and himself. They’ve just returned from the funeral of their friend and neighbor, and Tony sits in his faded easy chair and displays his gift of gab while Anthony fusses about, bumping into things and looking as awkward as a linebacker in a dollhouse.
He seems to be fighting for air indoors, only feeling at home when he roams the familiar fields.
The widow, Aoife (Helen Hedman), has been invited for a visit, along with her headstrong daughter Rosemary (Beth Hylton), who nurses old grievances as if they are fresh as milk. Tony and Aoife cozily (and hilariously) commiserate about the indignities of aging and the importance of leaving some kind of inheritance to their children, and their matter-of-fact humor and ingrained negativity are a treat to the ear, such as when Aoife plainly remarks that her late husband was “only happy when he was in bed or eating beef.”
Outside in the rain, Rosemary is smoking like a fiend while trying to light a fire under Anthony, who, Aoife observes, “a lot gets by.” Rosemary’s a spitfire, shadowboxing and sparring, in contrast to the almost bovine Anthony. One thing that does get his goat, however, is a tiny tract of land that belongs to Rosemary’s family but impedes his passage to the main road. He believes it belongs to him and that Rosemary should just turn it over.
If there’s a trait they share, it is stubbornness. The second half of the play takes place a couple of years later, with Rosemary and Anthony still mulish in their own weird ways—Anthony still brooding and stuck, the contrary Rosemary plowing and punching her way through life.
Yet loss and circumstances propel Rosemary to confront Anthony about why he is so distant and, well, daft. What ensues is a cockamamie and endearing sequence of love-play that will have you laughing at their cluelessness while cheering for their finally getting together. It is a pas de deux of eloquence, humor and passion to watch the smaller Hylton jumping, cajoling and pleading for the larger, lumbering Getman to speak the truth and tell her how he feels.
Outside Mullingar is about love of the land and lasting legacies, certainly, but it is ultimately a love story between two oddballs.
And what magnificent loonies Anthony and Rosemary are. The faraway, wounded look in Getman’s eyes and the awkward hunch tell you everything you need to know about Anthony’s inability to be happy and find his place in the world. But for all his sadness, there is tenderness too—and love—as seen in a bedside scene between Getman and Love that is a masterclass in pure, underplayed emotion.
Hylton’s Rosemary is a sputtery marvel of brusqueness and will, as Hylton shows Rosemary barreling through life like a blunt instrument but also filled to the brim with longing and emotions she can barely contain. For all her frankness and determination, Rosemary melts into a puddle when Anthony mentions her beauty, a moment touching and sweet.
There is nothing holiday-specific at all about Everyman’s Outside Mullingar, but it buoys the soul. Its lyrical treatment of family ties and the persistence of true love puts you in the seasonal mood without Santa or sentimental schmaltz.
Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley . Director: Donald Hicken . Featuring Tim Getman, Wil Love, Helen Hedman, and Beth Hylton . Set design: Daniel Ettinger . Lighting design: Jesse Belsky . Costume design: Ben Argenta Kress . Sound design/music: Phillip Owen . Stage manager: Amanda M. Hall. Produced by Everman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.