Love Triumphs Over Fear and Loss in Northlight’s “Outside Mullingar”

Anthony and Rosemary don’t know what life could be like outside Mullingar—the rural Irish town where they grew up side by side. Approaching their forties and struggling with personal problems, including a land dispute between their parents, they choose to remain in the home they have always known, and love has a great deal to do with it.

Based on the semi-autobiographical play written by John Patrick Shanley, “Outside Mullingar” is an Irish love story erupting with poetic language. It is also a realistic story about life and how hard it can be. Its characters struggle with loneliness, fear, loss and the ability to relate to one another and form relationships. But more than all of that, “Outside Mullingar” talks about the importance of living life to the fullest and not being afraid to pursue happiness.

Northlight Theatre’s heartwarming production of the play is directed by BJ Jones and has a strong Irish sensibility about it, from the authentic Irish Midlands accent of its actors and the brusque and humorous nature of the dialogue to the lively and soulful music that plays in between scenes and at the very end of the play. As Shanley describes it, part of that Irish sensibility is a “kind of willingness, to, without warning, go deep.”

The actors certainly evoke the depth of their characters’ frustrations, passionate longings and fears, and there are only four of them in the entire play. However, this small and talented cast makes it very easy for the audience to focus directly on the dialogue and the nature of the relationships that exist between the characters.

Kate Fry, as Rosemary Muldoon, is red-haired and feisty. She couldn’t do a better job of showing Rosemary’s strength and stubbornness as a woman. But aside from being headstrong and tough, Rosemary is also girlish, playful and vulnerable, a side of her that Fry portrays well when demonstrating her character’s deep love and longing for Anthony Reilly (played by Mark L. Montgomery).

Montgomery plays Anthony as a kind-hearted, hardworking and passive farmer who struggles standing up to his father and actively seeking out what he wants in life. Anthony’s most bizarre characteristic? He thinks he’s a bee. Montgomery’s best acting comes out when he shows the extent to which this strange belief has caused Anthony anxiety and prevented him from finding true happiness with Rosemary.

Annabel Armour, as Rosemary’s witty mother Aoife Muldoon, and William J. Norris, as Anthony’s strong-willed father Tony Reilly, are secondary characters who provide comic relief and background to their families’ land feud. The way Armour and Norris interact with each other is endearing and fun to watch, especially in the play’s opening scene when they talk about which relatives their children take after and humorously criticize each other. Both actors embody an old world Irish charm and brusqueness that makes the play feel more genuine.

One of the most wonderful qualities about “Outside Mullingar” and Jones’ production is the strength of the language and dialogue, which is at the heart of the play and at the center of the performance. The play’s language is extremely poetic and thoughtful, from lines like “The middle of anything is the heart of the thing” and “Forgive me for making light of your good heart” to “Men need height to balance the truth and goodness of women.” Even Shanley’s humor is literary and poetic, with lines like “Why in the name of Cinderella’s shoe.” Finally, there is also an Irish quality or sentiment to the play’s language that is deep and direct.

Although there are times in “Outside Mullingar” where the long scenes and heavy dialogue can be overwhelming, the play’s story is full of substance and you’ll find yourself rooting for its characters to find the love and happiness they deserve. Pair that with beautiful scenery, and Jones offers up an engaging and enjoyable performance.

 

Outside Mullingar” runs through April 19 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. For tickets and details, visit Northlight’s website or call 847-673-6300.