By Patrick Hurley
The course of true love definitely does not run smooth in John Patrick Shanley’s new play Outside Mullingar, playing now at the Geffen Playhouse. Yet with all the bumps along the way, it never really surprises either.
Set in a small town in Ireland, on a pair of family farms, over the course of five years, Shanley’s play examines the varying natures of love, faith, and hope in an episodic, touching, and often quite funny way. The story focuses on the Reilly’s, an ailing Tony (Jarlath Conroy) and his slightly odd son Anthony (Dan Donohue). And the Muldoons, Mother Aoife (Robin Pearson Rose) and strong-willed daughter Rosemary (Jessica Collins). The first two-thirds of the play deals with the relationship between father and son, mother and daughter, and men and women. Tony shares with Aoife his disappointment in the way Anthony has turned out, he’s in his forties and has never been married, and may be a bit cracked. Rosemary confesses her undying love for Anthony, and swears that she will, at all costs, wait for him, slightly diminishing her strong, independent womanhood for the all too familiar Hollywood-esque spinster trope. She somewhat becomes the long-suffering woman waiting for the man she loves to rescue her from the monotony of her life.
The set up feels a bit like a family drama, when in actuality what’s happening here turns out to be quite a formulaic romantic comedy. In the gifted hands of John Patrick Shanley, however, there is at least redemption through clever use of language. The play is funny, and the final scene, though completely predictable and sentimental, has enough punchy dialogue to keep the audience right there until the end.
Director Randall Arney keeps everything very still. There is little movement in each scene, and this sometimes works and sometimes drops the tension level. It is hard to stay focused on two actors standing side by side just talking for an entire scene. It can feel a bit flat. However, it works nicely for the bedroom scene between father and son, where the closeness and stillness allows for some tenderness to transpire between the two. The blackout scene changes are too long, and unfortunately they stall the play, however, it is a nice, if obvious touch that while the changes are happening Celtic music plays, keeping at least the tone of the play continuous in the dark. And the sets, designed by Anthony T. Fanning are gorgeous, so there is a silver lining to the long blackouts.
As Tony, Jarlath Conroy is a joy to watch. He is just enough of a curmudgeon to find hopelessly endearing. And his final scene is really lovely. Robin Pearson Rose gives Aoife a nice strength that elevates her from just a funny side character to a more substantial and fleshed out human being. And her comic timing is spot on. Jessica Collins builds into her character over the course of the evening, so that by the end we are cheering her on, despite reservations we may have with the cliched nature of her character. It’s a bit of an uneven road, but she gets there and it’s a nice payoff. Dan Donohue gives a wonderful performance as Anthony. His mannerisms suggest a bit of oddness, and his demeanor is shy enough to make him awkward but completely likable. He’s sometimes fascinating to watch, just to see how he’ll maneuver through awkward moments.
All in all, this is a solid production. It’s a bit on the nose, it feels somewhat heavy-handed and obvious at times, and the stillness of the scenes and the ling blackouts make it feel a bit more than the 90 minutes that it actually is. But the characters, the writing of John Patrick Shanley, and the performances hold the play slightly above standard fare. Making it a sweet, and enjoyable evening.
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Randall Arney
November 18, 2015-December 20, 2015
Tuesday – Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 3:00pm and 8:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm and 7:00pm
Ticket prices are currently $32 – $82 and are available in-person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, via phone at 310.208.5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.com. Fees may apply.
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024