“There aren’t any set rules,” shares David Daniel immediately following his performance in Outside Mullingar. “[The company and the audience] are creating the show, together.” Mere feet from their viewers, Forward Theater presents the lush fields of Ireland and the obstinate farmers who tend to them in a minimalistic approach to John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar.
Outside Mullingar follows the children of farmers, who were the children of farmers, who were the children of farmers… Our leads, Anthony and Rosemary. Their lives are planned upon birth, but as the inevitability of passing time creeps in, the unlikely pairing realize that they must decide where the rest of their lives lead for themselves. Between land feuds and off-the-cuff humor, this slice of Irish culture plays out beautifully upon a stage.
Just beneath the grand Overture Hall, director Tyler Merchant makes beautiful use of the unique, intimate Playhouse space in this stripped down rendition of Outside Mullingar. The path wrapping around the stage doubles as acres and acres of vast farmland, travelled by each character in moments of reflection. Water drips and pours throughout the performance, bringing the elements into the performance. A modified cyc drapes over the stage and fills the rafters with Irish sky. While the limited set is powerful and focuses the viewer on the intimate relationships between characters, the lack of props feels, at times, forced. As characters refer directly and often to props that don’t exist, audiences are pulled from the moment and out of the established reality.
Photo: Ross Zentner
James Pickering, in the role of Anthony’s brusk and aging father, breathes a dynamic and nearly palpable realism into his character, Tony. From an old Irish farmer, bottling everything resembling a feeling, to a weak man, wishing his last sentiments before the sun sets… Pickering explores every layer of Tony in a beautifully thought out manner.
While the plot takes an unexpected and unconventional turn in its closing, open minded audiences may leave the performance with a new appreciation for the beauty of human nature, and the core emotions that bind us all together in trying times.