Addison — Mullingar is the county town of County Westmeath, Ireland, which is comparable to a county seat in the United States. It is a growing modern community of 20,000 that is located about an hour from Dublin. Situated in the middle of beautiful lakes and waterways the town has sweeping grasslands that are ideal for agriculture and it is known for the quality of its meats. About 16 kilometers outside Mullingar is Killucan, a village so small that its population of around 1,700 includes that of another small village.
The Reillys and Muldoons own and manage cattle and sheep farmland in Killucan, which also happens to be the homestead of playwright John Patrick Shanley’s Irish family. The 2014 Tony Award-nominated Outside Mullingar, which opened Monday at the WaterTower Theatre in Addison, is a romantic comedy/drama of snapshots into the lives of the Reillys and Muldoons as they navigate a world from which they feel apart.
The snapshots are of three points in time, December 2008, 2009 and 2013. We enter the kitchen of Tony Reilly (John S. Davies) as he is talking with his son Anthony (Jeremy Schwartz). It is a rainy day and they have just returned from the funeral of neighbor Christopher Muldoon. They are soon visited by Muldoon’s widow, Aiofe (Gail Cronauer) who is wracked with grief. She and Tony are elderly and in poor health, which becomes part of their conversation as they trade memories of younger, happier days. Aiofe’s daughter Rosemary (Jessica Cavanagh) is outside smoking.
Against this backdrop of aging and death, Tony and Aiofe talk about the passage of property to their children, and about the fact that Rosemary and Anthony remain unmarried (both are over 30, gasp), and both stand to inherit their parents farms. The Reilly and Muldoon properties are adjacent which connects Rosemary and Anthony indefinitely, and while they have lived side by side all of their lives, they are approaching an intersection that could determine the future of both families.
Shanley knows how to create characters an audience can care about, whether it is Loretta Castorini and Ronny Cammareri in Moonstruck or Sister Aloysius and Father Brendan in Doubt. Such is the case with Outside Mullingar. Director René Moreno has kept his hand invisible as he creates a frame for this excellent cast to work.
Watching Davies and Cronauer is like watching a couple of Bentleys roll unceremoniously down the street. They make it look so easy as they mine their characters for every bit of realness, trading back and forth as Tony and Aiofe in that way that people who have been friends for many years tend to do. Rosemary and Anthony are on a path that is largely foreseeable, but each makes discoveries which are unexpected. Cavanagh and Schwartz seesaw through an emotional build that is both gnarling and adorable. Interestingly, for a love story, the only time the words “I love you” are spoken are between Anthony and his father, not Rosemary and Anthony. Perhaps the reason is as Anthony says “Maybe the quiet around the thing is as important as the thing itself.”
The outstanding performances are nestled within an efficient set (by Michael Sullivan) that suggests an environment that is sufficient but not drab, reminiscent but not sad. The conversations in the story occur in different areas which are largely defined through lighting (Jason Foster). Thought has been given to smaller details such as wall adornments, including a photograph that from the audience view appears to be of JFK. Kudos to Ryan Joyner for designing sound with moments that are so ambient they do not seem designed. These production values, along with Barbara Cox’s costumes, successfully present the old and the new simultaneously, a story in the modern age of people very much shackled to the past.
This production is the embodiment of what great theater can be; all of the elements coming together to create something extraordinary.