Watching John Patrick Shanley’s new Irish romance “Outside Mullingar,” you have the sense the playwright accomplished just what he wanted to do. The recently opened production at the B Street Theatre easily charms and entertains while fashioning a poetic ode to awkward romance and an anachronistic way of life.
Shanley, a New York-born Irish American playwright and screenwriter, has written romances before both for theater (“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea”) and for film (“Moonstruck”), but those were both urban New York stories. He won an Academy Award for “Moonstruck” and directed the film adaptation of his play “Doubt,” with Meryl Streep and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead roles. “Doubt” won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Award for best play.
With “Outside Mullingar,” he has written a rosy-hued homage to his Irish forebearers, and there can be no mistaking his affection for their influence on him.
The only New York production of “Outside Mullingar” premiered on Broadway in January and featured Brían F. O’Byrne and television actress Debra Messing, making her Broadway debut. The play was nominated for a best play Tony Award this past season. The B Street production is the West Coast premiere.
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The working-class Irish country life depicted in the play could take place anytime in the past 100 years, as there is little to make the story contemporary but much to make it timeless.
Set on neighboring cattle and sheep farms outside the town of Killucan, Ireland (Mullingar is more or less the next town over), Shanley’s modest little love story has the feel of a personal epic. The two protagonists, David Pierini’s sad, mopey Anthony and Dana Brooke’s brisk, resolute Rosemary, have known each other all their lives.
Unknown to Anthony, an incident that occurred during their childhood (he was 12 and she was 7 when he pushed her down in the road) has had repercussions that influenced each of their families ever since.
Anthony and Rosemary have a familiar-though-somewhat-distant relationship mainly due to his apparent unease around most people. While devoted to the family farm, Anthony comes across as tied and trapped there as well, though there’s nothing else professionally he’s really able to do. Rosemary is a desired local beauty, but she has deflected all suitors and remains mysteriously single into her mid-30s.
“Outside Mullingar” is a deceptively simple linear play with small details of memories and stories told coming from other points of view to make major plot points.
Anthony lives with his dour, dying old father, Tony (Greg Alexander, a late but fine addition to the cast), while Rosemary lives with her cheery, rational mother, Aoife (the excellent Jayne Taini). There is a blunt, funny Irish matter-of-factness in all of the characters, especially when they discuss death and dying.
Director Buck Busfield lets the play unfold simply, without affectation in its unabashed sentimentality and earnestness, highlighting the gifts of his actors, particularly Brooke’s quiet intensity and Pierini’s oddball soulfulness.
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WHAT: B Street Theatre produces the West Coast premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s new Irish romance with David Pierini and Dana Brooke.
WHEN: Continues 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 23.
WHERE: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
TICKETS: $15-$35; $5 student rush
INFORMATION: (916) 443-5300, bstreettheatre.org
TIME: 85 minutes; no intermission