Irish eyes are smiling right now in Wilmington, where Delaware Theatre Company (DTC) has mounted a charming production of John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar. But one needn’t be a son or daughter of Erin to enjoy this endearing, wistful romantic comedy about two spiky middle-aged neighbors who gradually realize a decades-long attraction to each other.
Unexpected love interests
Those who know Shanley only from the tense, Pulitzer Prize–winning Doubt (and its overwrought film adaptation) might be surprised by this play, which bowed on Broadway in 2014 and was previously seen locally at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Of course, Shanley also scripted Moonstruck, one of the great cinematic romances of all time, and that classic shares many similarities with this later work. In this case, the playwright trades Brooklynese for blarney, but he continues to center characters who seem ill-suited to our expectations of traditional love interests.
A worthy trip to the country
Here, Anthony Reilly (Charlie DelMarcelle) and Rosemary Muldoon (Kim Carson) have spent the sum total of their lives on adjacent farms in the rural countryside, generating chemistry that seems apparent to everyone but themselves. Each provides care for an aging parent in the play’s early scenes: Anthony’s father Tony Reilly (Dan Kern) and Rosemary’s mother Aoife Muldoon (Nancy Boykin) are exactly the pair of prickly, salt-of-the-earth elders you expect to find in an Irish comedy.
Shanley weaves a fair number of red herrings into the 90-minute running time, including intrigue involving American relatives, a contentious feud over a contested patch of land, and a delightfully bizarre eleventh-hour plot twist that I won’t spoil. The play’s outcome is never in doubt, but Shanley’s zany style and smart dialogue renders the journey quite worthy, even when the destination is preordained.
Rooting for the stars
Director Bud Martin’s production for DTC, while effective, is slightly more soft-grained than the story needs. The sharpness embedded in character interactions feels unnecessarily buffed at times, which makes the ultimate payoff seem more treacly than well-earned. His style works best in quiet, outwardly sentimental scenes, as when a dying Tony finally shows his son the affection he’s continuously withheld.
For his part, DelMarcelle leans into the weirdness of his character, imbuing Anthony with a sense of off-kilter secrecy that gradually becomes apparent during the denouement’s big reveal. He’s an unfailingly interesting actor, able to seem good-natured, wounded, moving, and slightly scary in equal measures. His performance pairs nicely with Carson, who doesn’t fully communicate Rose’s larger-than-life nature but does well by her forlorn loneliness. You can’t help but root for them as a couple.
A grand time
Kern and Boykin, who are married in real life, both come across a bit hale and hearty for a pair essentially described as having one foot in the grave. Yet Boykin delivers a tartly funny performance throughout, and Kern—who initially seems too brusque—layers his character nicely, leading to a satisfying resolution. The four cast members, all local, appear to be having a grand time together.
DTC’s production further benefits from a realistic set by Colin McIlvaine, which Thom Weaver lights atmospherically, and a tangy soundtrack by Michael Kiley. This being Ireland, you can expect a lot of rain, and the thunderclaps arrive on cue. But the greatest strength is Shanley’s script itself, which I would place among the most enjoyable I’ve encountered in the past decade or so.
What, When, Where
Outside Mullingar. By John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Bud Martin. Through March 1, 2020, at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St., Wilmington, DE. (302) 594-1100 or delawaretheatre.org.
Delaware Theatre Company is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Accessible seating, assisted-listening devices, and large-print programs are available at all performances.