Towards the end of Bud Martin’s enjoyable production of John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar, Kim Carson’s no-nonsense Rosemary shoots a piercing stare, at once amused and incredulous, at Charlie DelMarcelle’s naïve Anthony. Dozens of things come into focus and are affected by that one shrewd and meaningful look.
It’s an expression Martin and Carson know is critical because the productions lingers on it for a few extra beats. Rosemary has been waiting for, and believes she has received, a sign that may free her from a busy but solitary and unexciting life in a village smaller than the already insignificant Irish town of Mullingar. It imbues Shanley’s light but engaging piece and Martin’s deft direction of it with depth and impact. It provides a lovely moment, an epiphany, that tells us all we hoped for Rose and Anthony, and all their parents hoped for them, will come to be, and come to be happily.
The village in which the characters live is quite remote. Rosemary longs to visit China, but the inhabitants know little about anywhere else and everything about each other. Remember the old joke about Irish Alzheimer’s — forgetting everything but the grudges? Well, there’s a lot of that in Outside Mullingar, as Anthony’s father, Tony (Dan Kern), lists his resentments, fears, and unreasonable solutions for both, and Rose’s mother, Aofie (Nancy Boykin), is all about telling things as they are, including her premonition she won’t live long now that her husband is dead and her worry over Rosemary’s lack of romantic prospects, or even friends, to keep her company in her old age.
From the moment the lights go up on a father and son bickering Shanley has outspoken Irishmen letting their minds be known unfiltered. He covers land, inheritance, lineage, and love, lacing the mundane but personal dialog with one-liners that provide a lot of laughs. Humorous banter that seems to hover between Irish style and a parody of it keeps things amusing enough until the meat of Shanley’s story comes to the fore.
Rosemary has been wooed by every young man in the district but has shooed all of them away. Anthony prefers being alone in the pastures he farms and the adjoining woods and fields than in the company of others. One has rejected all who asked. One, at age 42, is a virgin who’s never asked for anything. Anthony and Rose are the only two in all of their village who don’t know they’re made for each other, and even they, on some level, suspect it.
Shanley’s fun is placing the awakenings and revelations before our eyes, mostly for Anthony and Rosemary to miss or ignore. Martin’s skill is letting two consummate pros like Kim Carson and Charlie DelMarcelle take the fodder and build honest, nourishing theater from it, each creating a character that is likable, even when obtuse or disagreeable, and interesting on his or her own. Outside Mullingar is a love story in which the course of love would run smooth if it weren’t for stubbornness, misunderstanding, Irish prudery, and the reluctance to speak first, especially about matters that are right before your nose.
Carson has more facets than the usual Rosemary. She forgoes obvious hardness to convey a feminine desire to care for someone, no matter what her impatience, blunt speech, and putdowns of Anthony might betoken. You believe Carson’s Rosemary when she declares that if romance, or anything interesting, doesn’t occur soon she shall go mad. DelMarcelle is excellent in giving Anthony dimension and eliciting concern for him while remaining laconic, inhibited, and uncomfortable with life in general.
Carson and DelMarcelle aren’t alone in providing this flinty confection. Dan Kern is marvelous as the wrong-headed, pigheaded Tony Reilly, who overthinks the simple and needs enough neighbors to tell him he’s daft before it partially dawns on him they may have a point. Nancy Boykin provides womanly warmth as Rose’s mother, who may be polite but isn’t afraid to admit her daughter is a handful and who wants reason to prevail in hope it will provide the best for everyone. Kern and Boykin have to carry the beginning scenes of the play, and they do so with the assurance of veterans before Martin builds well from their gossipy chatter to the unorthodox byplay of Rosemary and Anthony.
Colin McIlvane neatly designs two contrasting kitchens, Anthony’s being rustic and limited to essentials, Rose’s looking modern, polished, and as if food preparation, and washing up after, takes place there. Thom Weaver’s lighting reflects moods and provides a lovely, subtle moment when a lovely, subtle moment is exactly what’s called for. Katherine Fritz does well by the costumes, and sound designer Michael Kiley is clever in how he sneaks renditions of “The Wild Mountain Thyme,” a folk song all the characters sing at one point, into his background score.
[Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington, DE] February 12-March 1, 2020; delawaretheatre.org,