The Dayton Theatre Guild’s 71st season opens with an outstanding local premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s 2014 Tony Award-nominated dramedy “Outside Mullingar,” a poignant look at romance between fortysomethings on a cattle and sheep farm in rural Ireland.
Deftly directed by David Shough, “Outside Mullingar,” sharing an Irish kinship to the plays of Martin McDonagh in terms of intimate authenticity, carries itself as contemporary (it begins in 2008) although it has a wonderful throwback quality at its core as if it could have been written 40 years ago. Neighbors Anthony Reilly and Rosemary Muldoon have been lifelong pals but due to mutual awkwardness and fear they never acted upon their obvious attraction, especially the shy, introverted and virginal Anthony whose heart remains crushed by the rejection he faced as a teenager from local lass Fiona. It is only through prodding and encouragement from the determined Rosemary, particularly in the excellently written final scene, that Anthony is able to release himself from his lonely, emotional shell and simply accept the possibilities a meaningful relationship can bring. As so, I can’t help but link Anthony to Robert in Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” considering both bachelors ultimately realize “alone is alone – not alive.”
Shanley, very adept at creating gender conflicts as evidenced in his Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Moonstruck” and his Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Doubt,” is truly at his best when Anthony and Rosemary’s bickering, flavorful bond is front and center. Less successful is his subplot about property and family rivalry commonly addressed by Anthony’s gruff father Tony and Rosemary’s gentle mom Aoife. The strip of land dividing the two farms has significance as backstory but doesn’t necessarily engage. Even so, Tony and Aoife are genuinely charming catalysts for comedy with a slight Archie and Edith Bunker sensibility.
Mike Beerbower, in his remarkable Guild debut, fully embraces Anthony’s idiosyncrasies and good-natured persona to deliver a terrifically sensitive and endearing portrayal packaged in fidgety beauty. The stellar Teresa Connair, in one of her most expressive, intuitive and understated performances, captivates to the hilt especially as the opinionated, feisty and humorous Rosemary (who particularly feels the Bible should be renamed “The Book of Ugly Stories”) tries to dissect Anthony’s indifference throughout and strongly advises Tony not to be so unsympathetic about Anthony and his commitment to the Reilly farm. Dave Nickel, who appeared in Shough’s production of “An Inspector Calls” last season, is delightfully persnickety overall but becomes particularly powerful toward the end of the play in a tear-jerking scene with Beerbower that finds Tony in need of late night confession. Connie Fowler Strait, in her enjoyable Guild debut, tenderheartedly accents the cast as the likable if underwritten Aoife.
In addition, Shough serves as co-scenic designer with Chris Newman, who returns to the Guild having terrifically designed “Heartbreak House” and “An Inspector Calls.” The efficiently cozy unit sets they created breezily serve the material and are swiftly handled by the stage crew in some of the finest scene changes ever witnessed at the Guild. In fact, the nearly breathtaking final transition feels impressively cinematic. Shough also serves as lighting designer and effectively partners with K.L. Storer to contribute sound design.
“You can’t live against your life,” Rosemary warns Anthony. There is compelling truth in her statement and the overriding fact that this crowd-pleasing production is absolutely unforgettable.
“Outside Mullingar” continues through Sept. 6 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. The play is performed in 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $13 for students. Call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org.