‘Outside Mullingar’ a touching slice of Irish life

Sentimental, yes, and predictable, yet altogether beguiling, John Patrick Shanley’s romantic comedy of sorts, “Outside Mullingar,” draws you into a world that feels quintessentially Irish.

It’s dark — as comedies by Irish writers from the 20th century on tend to be (although Shanley’s American) — with hints of potential violence.

And it’s funny — sometimes morbidly, wickedly funny — and lilting and poetic without ever being overly dramatic.

TheatreWorks’ production, tenderly directed by Robert Kelley, and played out on Andrea Bechert’s tidy and elegantly detailed rotating set, nails all the play’s rhythms: the explosive anger, the quiet deathbed confession, the yearning, the banter, the rapture.

Staged on Broadway in 2014, this is at last Shanley’s play in which he reaches deep into his own past; his father comes from rural Ireland, where “Outside Mullingar” is set. (Shanley’s better known for his Italian-American characters, as in “Moonstruck,” and for the New York-based Catholic church drama “Doubt.”)

As “Outside Mullingar” begins, the two central characters — 42-year-old Anthony Reilly (Rod Brogan, convincingly low-key and awkward; as his Dad says, he’s a bit strange) and the slightly younger Rosemary Muldoon (Jessica Wortham, in a strong and impassioned portrayal of a tough-minded lass) — live on neighboring farms, she with her dying Mum (a wonderfully sly Lucinda Hitchcock Cone) and he with his crotchety old man (the excellent Steve Brady), also near death.

When Reilly père informs Anthony that he’s not leaving the farm to him (“You never stood upon the land like a king,” he tells the shambling Anthony), everyone’s shocked at the cruelty of it.

The farm indeed is a fifth character in the play, and it takes a while to realize just how deeply important the land, in this out-of-the-way area (near the town of Mullingar, in the Midlands), is to the characters.

There’s also the issue of a little strip of land between the two farms: The Muldoons own it, and Reilly senior wants to buy it.

The land, which previously belonged to the Reilly family for more than a century, becomes increasingly significant.

You won’t be surprised at the play’s outcome, as Anthony and Rosemary — both single, lonely, depressed — circle around each other, she increasingly aggressively, he mysteriously evasive.

But you’ll likely be surprised and touched as they — and Dad, too — peel away layers of deeply held secrets to reveal themselves down to their soulful cores.

REVIEW
Outside Mullingar
Presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 30
Tickets: $19 to $80
Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org

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