December 2008, outside Killian, Ireland, on a beef and sheep farm. This sets the stage for the plot to unfold, a plot that envelops the very ideals of Irish life, ideology and culture. Directed by Susan Baer Collins, Outside Mullingar hooks you to the first line.
We open with Don Keelan-White as Tony Reilly, Da, (father,) to his son and farmhand Anthony Reilly. Keelan-White expresses an authentic personality, right down to her thick Irish brogue. His humor is quick and dry, but it’s not lost on the audience. Many laughs are heard as people follow the story of his funeral and ‘land grabbing’ speech. Tony, who is ashamed that his son is taking care of his wife’s family, the Kellys, (who are a little strange on that side) assumes that Anthony doesn’t have the guts to rise up to take on takes over the management of the farm when he is gone. The 42-year-old farm worker lives in the shadow of his father. He’s eager to prove his dad wrong, take on farming chores, and make something of himself.
Aiofe Muldoon, played by Judy Radcliffe, perfected the Irish dialect with her enunciation and smooth speech, like a gentle babbling stream over the Irish hills. She’s the matriarch who holds her family together and rules the roost ever since her husband passed away.
Chris Shonka is ideal in his portrayal of Anthony. Shonka is no stranger to the role of the Irishman (he dated the role when he appeared on TV soap operas in New York City.) An avid performer, director and lecturer with a doctorate in theater history, Shonka gives life to the character of Anthony every time. nuance. With his gentle transmission of Irish sensibilities, his Anthony makes him an intriguing yet timid character who is interesting to watch.
A seductive tension begins to build when Aiofe’s daughter, Rosemary Muldoon, enters the equation (Laura Beeghly). She plays the chain-smoking character of Rosemary with a nonchalant ease that reads well and gives her a cold but warm strength. We immediately sense a deeper connection between the two, an unspoken attraction masked by traditional expectations of farm life and neighborhood etiquette.
Rosemary even goes so far as to have a tense meeting with Tony in which she convinces him to leave the farm to Anthony and not cut him out of his will.
Over time, we learn that Tony and Aiofe passed away and left their respective farms and lands to their children. This allows the romance to really grow 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 of Swan Lake”. He affectionately replies that if he is a bee, then she is a flower. I understood it was meant to be metaphorical in nature, two Irish souls trying to find their way but meant to be intertwined and connected to each other.
The lighting and sound effects were perfect, with scenes in dark rain outside and inside Muldoon’s simple but cozy house. A guiding light projector is symbolic of Tony’s journey into the light after a long night of reflection, discussion and repair with his son. The fold-out set is a work of art in itself, with parts moving in and out, creating a cohesive structural unit that adequately serves each scene. Like some Broadway productions, OCP even cast backup actors to take on roles whenever needed.
A sincere production, Outside Mullingar at the Omaha Community Playhouse is a unique and well staged play that will give you a glimpse into Irish life, their struggles, hopes and dreams. It’s a bittersweet love story, with a storyline full of charming, witty banter and an affinity for heritage that is proudly Irish. Playwright John Patrick Shanley reconnected with his own Irish heritage in life when he was inspired to write it, making the play something of an ode to his homeland and the Celtic people. It’s beautifully acted, cleverly staged, and a great precursor to starting the Ides of March, just before the start of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Outside Mullingar play until March 13and with performances from Thursday to Sunday. Tickets start at $36 for audience members and $26 for OCP season subscribers. Prices vary according to performance. Tickets available by phone, online or in person. Masks are mandatory and COVID protocols apply.