Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 16, $67-$135
Ten years ago, Manhattan Theatre Club presented Bronx-born playwright John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, starring Brían F. O’Byrne, directed by Doug Hughes, and with scenic design by John Lee Beatty. That group has teamed up again for the world premiere of Outside Mullinger, a charming little tale that opened last week at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. A dark romantic comedy, Outside Mullingar takes place in County Westmeath in the home of Tony Reilly (a wonderful Peter Maloney) and his ne’er-do-well son, Anthony (five-time Tony nominee O’Byrne). An elderly widower, Tony tells his neighbor, Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy), that he is considering selling his farm to his nephew in America rather than leave it to Anthony. Aoife, who has just buried her husband, Christopher, can’t believe Tony would do that to his son, who is distressed when he is told of the possibility that he might not get the family land he has worked on his whole life. Discussion also turns to a forty-meter strip of land on the Reilly property that is actually owned by the Muldoons because of an old loan. The strip divides the front of the Reilly home so Tony and Anthony have to walk through a pair of gates to get from the road to their front door. Now that Christopher Muldoon has died, the Reillys believe they can get that narrow bit of land back, but Muldoon’s daughter, Rosemary (Debra Messing), is not about to hand it over, as it holds a very special memory for her. As the two families bicker both playfully and seriously, attention soon turns to Anthony and Rosemary, two lonely, difficult people who clearly don’t know what’s best for them.
Shanley, who won a Tony and a Pulitzer for Doubt and an Oscar for his screenplay for Moonstruck, keeps things simple in Outside Mullingar, which works as a timeless character study, performed by an engaging cast. Maloney (To Be or Not to Be, Judgment at Nuremberg) nearly steals the show as the crotchety old man, while Molloy (Dancing at Lughnasa, The Cripple of Inishmaan) is stalwart as the widow dressed in black. One of the genuine treasures of the New York stage, O’Byrne (Frozen, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) plays the unpredictable Tony with just the right mix of ambiguity and crazy. And in her Broadway debut — although she has performed often off Broadway, including as Mary Louise Parker’s understudy in Shanley’s Four Dogs and a Bone — Emmy Award winner Messing (Will & Grace, Smash) is a delight, employing an Irish brogue as she battles with Tony both in his house and outdoors in a gentle rainstorm. Here’s hoping it’s not another ten years before this talented team works together again.