Buffalo Theatre Ensemble opened its production of Outside Mullingar at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage in Glen Elyn on May 3, 2018. The play was directed by Steve Scott, an Artistic Associate and retired Producer at the Goodman Theatre. 

Outside Mullingar was written by John Patrick Shanley, the American playwright who won an Oscar for Moonstruck in 1988 and a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play for Doubt in 2005.  Outside Mullingar debuted on Broadway in 2014 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.  (Fun fact:  Debra Messing made her Broadway debut in that production as Rosemary.)

Set on a cattle and sheep farm outside Killucan, in rural Ireland, the play tells the story of two families, the Reillys and the Muldoons, who live on adjoining farms.  Their neighboring lives have intertwined and paralleled for decades:  they have attended church together, mourned each other’s losses and squabbled over land issues. Tony Reilly and Aoife Muldoon are the elders; Anthony and Rosemary, their respective adult children.  After a funeral in the first act, Tony and Aoife contemplate the end of their lives, their legacies and whether to leave their farms to their single, and seemingly unlikely-to-wed, children.  What will happen to the Muldoon name if he leaves the farm to Anthony, who seems so peculiar that no woman would want to marry him? Tony wonders, should he leave the farm to his <gasp> American cousin?  Rosemary will unequivocally inherit the Muldoon farm and the women do their best to convince Tony to leave the Reilly farm to Anthony. Norm Woodel (Tony) and Millie Hurley (Aoife) are charming and clever, at turns bickering and laughing, full of Irish wit and blarney.

The second half of the play is a sweet and completely awkward love story between Anthony (played by Robert Jordan Bailey) and Rosemary (played by Kelli Walker), the middle-aged misfits who have taken over the family farms.  Two quirky souls, each harbor a childhood secret that has kept them from finding love.  They are endearing and cringeworthy.  Once all is revealed, will the pair find their way to one another?

A seemingly simple and charming fable, Director Steve Scott seeks to dig deeper than that with his production of Outside Mullingar: “Woven through the author’s evocative language and picturesque setting are questions that strike at the essence of all of us.  How do we deal with the midpoint of our lives, as unfettered dreams give way to practical realities?  How much of our past, and our family’s past, do we carry with us, and what should we discard along the way?  How do we weigh the temptation to fly away from the things (duties, possessions, habits) that seem to plague us, against the comfort of the known and predictable?  And when faced with our own eventual mortality, how do we negotiate the earthly journey that remains before us, and the journeys that lie beyond?  These are the themes that lie at the heart of Shanley’s bracing romantic tale – but instead of the despair that can often cripple us, the writer rewards us with liberal doses of hope, an element that is too often in short supply these days.” 

The themes feel heavy, but this production is weird and joyful and absurd and funny.  It is abuzz with Irish charm.

Performances are Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and will run through June 3.  Tickets are $37. 

Outside Mullingar is playing at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd, Glen Ellyn.