Reviewed by George Basler
Mix two lonely people with the beautiful, but remote, Irish countryside and you have the main elements of Outside Mullingar, a modest but endearing play that opened this past weekend (March 29-31) and will run through April 14 at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott.
While the play has its flaws, the production being staged by the newly-formed Fab Arts Company is a beautiful effort, well directed by Chelsea French, that skillfully blends quirkiness and sweetness into an emotionally compelling package that leaves a romantic glow.
A major plus is the lovely chemistry of the two leads — Jake Wentlent and Jessica Cadden Osborne — who play a couple obviously smitten with each other but struggling to express their true feelings because of shyness and insecurity.
The play is by John Patrick Shanley, probably best known for his Tony Award-winning play Doubt and his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck.
As with Moonstruck, the Tony-nominated Outside Mullingar features a repressed heroine and a brooding leading man with some colorful secondary characters thrown into the mix. And, like Moonstruck, the real strength of the play is Shanley’s ability to sprinkle some eccentric touches and off-center characters into the romantic comedy formula.
However, Outside Mullingar is a rather schizophrenic play. While billed as a romantic comedy, the first act plays like a drama, with occasional moments of humor, as a deeply unhappy Anthony Reilly (Wentlent), clashes with his vinegary father (Tom Kremer) over who will inherit the family’s farm. Their neighbors, Aiofe Muldoon (Carol Hanscom) and her daughter, Rosemary (Cadden Osborne), pay a visit, and sparks fly as Rosemary urges Anthony to stand his ground.
Kremer and Hanscom are established professionals with a long list of local productions on their resumes, not to mention careers as faculty members at Binghamton University. So, it’s no surprise that they give skilled performances as an elderly curmudgeon and a blunt woman unafraid to speak her mind. Kremer is especially noteworthy in a deeply touching scene at the end of Act I when he makes a heartfelt confession to his son.
Still, the cast’s best efforts can’t disguise the fact that the first act is a bit of a slog. The production comes most vividly to life in a luminous second act when Anthony and Rosemary finally reveal their feelings for each other in scenes that are filled with humor and emotional intensity.
Wentlent and Cadden Osborne play these scenes, which are part confrontation and part courtship, wonderfully well. Rosemary is a complex character. On the surface, she’s a tough and independent woman. Underneath, she’s emotionally fragile and filled with a deep sense of longing. Cadden Osborne expertly plays both aspects.
Wentlent also touches the heart as the conflicted Anthony whose brooding nature and lack of self-worth threatens to derail his life and relationship with Rosemary.
Most importantly, both actors play off each other with a naturalness that makes the reluctant love birds irresistible.
The lighting by Craig Saeger and set design by Wentlent, who is also Fab Arts’ artistic director, also deserve applause.
In the end, Outside Mullingar provides an emotional payoff that leaves you believing, as one of the characters says, “The middle is the best part. The middle of anything is the heart of the thing.”
The Fab Arts production isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and is all the better for it.
IF YOU GO: Outside Mullingar is being performed at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott, through April 14. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Ticket prices are $20 to $25. There is also a $10 student ticket. Tickets can be purchased at thefabartscompany.thundertix.com or by calling 607-206-7779.