The soil of Ireland may prove fertile for potatoes and cattle, but it also seems to provide good ground for plays. Lately local audiences have seen a few of them, from Florida Studio Theatre’s earlier production of the Dublin-set Chapatti to other stages offering works by Martin McDonagh to FST’s current show at the Gompertz Theatre, Outside Mullingar.
In this case, the playwright, John Patrick Shanley (best known for the movie Moonstruck and his Tony-winning play Doubt: A Parable) was not born in Ireland, but it’s in his blood, as it is in the four characters in Outside Mullingar. They can’t seem to get away from the countryside where they live, despite its limitations, but then again, perhaps they don’t want to.
For Anthony Reilly (Gil Brady), who’s worked the family farm since he was a boy, being outside and in nature is crucial to him. The death of an older neighbor brings his own father (George Tynan Crowley) to consider his plans for passing the farm on, and it’s to everyone’s surprise that he talks of overlooking his hard-working son in favor of an American-based cousin.
His reasons are voiced, although perhaps not convincingly to the survivors of that recently dead neighbor, the man’s widow (Louisa Flaningam) and daughter, Rosemary (Claire Warden). Rosemary is fierce and determined about fighting for Anthony’s rights even when he is not, and it’s touching to discover why: She’s been in love with him since they were young, and has turned away suitors because of it.
Anthony, on the other hand, is, as even he acknowledges, strange, and seems to be still pining for a long-ago lost love. While the two may be misfits in need of each other, the battle to prove that to Anthony is at the heart of the play.
Shanley’s work here boasts some well-written scenes, especially the final one between Anthony and Rosemary, and it’s strong enough on its own that it doesn’t require the overly energetic shouting the cast too often does, at least initially. It feels as if the direction (by Kate Alexander) is asking the actors to perform louder and faster at times, and that actually prevents our getting into their situations for a while.
But when Crowley’s character reveals his own failures and fears to Anthony, and when Rosemary and Anthony at last confront their own feelings for each other, Outside Mullingar is very effective. In those scenes Alexander shows a sure hand for timing the dialogue between the characters to take us from humorous to heartfelt and back again.
I particularly like FST newcomer Warden’s work here as Rosemary; she’s convincingly full of rough edges that hide her longings until they’re meant to be revealed. And she and Brady have a nice chemistry as their relationship shifts and the stakes escalate.
The set by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay represents a believable slice of living in rural Ireland, although the deliberate moving of its pieces between scenes may nag a little at some audience members.
Outside Mullingar continues through March 27; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.