Outside Mullingar

January Riddle Reviews - Theater
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Thanks to a stellar cast and its crafty director, Todd Salovey, San Diego Repertory Theatre’s engaging production of Outside Mullingar succeeds in pulling the wool over the eyes, just long enough and often enough to be pleasantly, often hilariously, surprising.

 

Here we have a play with as many twists as a Gaelic knot , and as artfully crafted, written by John Patrick Shanley, he of Moonstruck and Doubt fame. It’s a tale as Irish as a leprechaun, and just as full of tricks, including a musical trio (Jim Mooney, Alicia Previn, and Richard Tibbits) capriciously playing sing-a-long shanties.

 

Named for a village in rural Ireland, the play opens as two generations of neighbors come together after a funeral, taking tea in the Reilly’s tiny kitchen.  The two women, practical mother Aoife Muldoon (sincerely and amusingly wrought by Ellen Crawford) and rebellious daughter Rosemary, are lamenting the father’s loss. The two men, the  dominating, curmudgeonly Da Tony (intensely played by Mike Genovese) and his shy and awkward son Anthony, are grumping about the strip of land, a right of way between the two farms, that the deceased managed to acquire during a rough patch in the Reilly’s past.  It isn’t long before the disagreements between and within the two families focus on farming and that bit of earth.  Tony threatens to leave the family farm to the son who fled Ireland and now lives in California because Anthony is too much like his mother’s side of the family.  Rosemary threatens to fly away to anywhere else when Aoife dies because there is no reason to stay.

Such is history as it exists in families, and the narrative gives that theme a wonderfully authentic and heartfelt foundation. Yet the road less traveled, that of love delayed and possibly discarded, is what the story is truly about.  Scorned decades ago by his teenage love, Anthony (heartwarmingly captured by Manny Fernandes) cannot bring himself to give in to feelings for Rosemary (delightfully drawn by Carla Harting), who hides hers for him in sarcasm.

Never mind the superstitions that pop up like faeries in the woods, for they are deeply embedded in Celtic culture, taken as seriously as a grudge. Lovers wait for a sign, and landowners wrangle for a deal. Meanwhile, the years and people pass on with nary a change in mood or longing. Until, suddenly, a light shines, a ring appears, a road opens, and love finds its way past all humans’ stubborn obstacles.

Secrets and confessions, motives and revelations, move this quirky, heartwarming, mirthful play to conclusions that both tie and release the assortment of knots that weave this wonderfully Irish tale.

Outside Mullingar plays through Sunday, Feb. 21, at San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Space.