The Political Correctness Police seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the Irish. Racial slurs against African Americans, Asians, etc. are obviously right out. Heaven forbid you should question Caitlyn Jenner’s beauty or courage. And you can’t call the 350-pound, 5-foottall woman at 7-Eleven clutching a 64-ounce Double Gulp full of soda in one hand and three orders of nachos in the other “fat.” But jokes about drunken Paddy getting jiggy with a sheep on his way home to his 15 kids still get the thumbs up from pretty much everyone.
So the first reason among many to praise John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar is that it gives nods to some of the classic Irish stereotypes without lampooning them. Its four characters all, at times at least, exhibit the characteristic querulousness for which the Irish are known. The four also embody, to varying degrees, the lyrically fatalistic faith typical to Irish country folk in particular. Guinness is drank and pubs are mentioned, but none of the four are lushes. Ireland’s failure to win any gold medals — even in boxing — at the 2008 Olympics is the only reference to any proclivity for fisticuffs.
Shanley, an American of Irish descent, clearly knows his ancestral home. With Outside Mullingar, Shanley paints a picture of modern-day, rural Ireland that’s both vivid and softfocused, both grounded and fantastical. Outside Mullingar is a well-crafted comedy containing just a skosh of pathos. It’s a good, if not excellent, play with broad appeal, and it’s no wonder why the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) chose it to open its 10th season.
It’s hard to believe that BETC has already been around for 10 seasons. Owing in large part to its consistently expert productions and its penchant for producing challenging, novel material, BETC continues to feel like a young company. At nearly 10 years old, however, BETC has matured into a formidable theatrical organization, a fact underscored by its recent receipt of a National Theatre Grant from the American Theatre Wing, the group that created the Tony Awards.
Commenting on the honor, BETC’s Producing Ensemble Director and cofounder, Stephen Weitz, explains, “We are incredibly proud that an organization like the American Theatre Wing would recognize the quality of our work, the clarity of our mission, and the impact we seek to make in our community.”
Mullingar is a real-life small town in the Irish midlands filled with farms and the families who run them. Outside Mullingar concerns itself with two long-resident, neighboring families, the Reillys and the Muldoons. Widower Tony Reilly (Chris Kendall) and his 40-something-year-old son, Anthony (Timothy McCracken), open the play hosting recently widowed Aoife Muldoon (Billie McBride) and her 30-something-year-old daughter, Rosemary (Emily Paton Davies).
A few things become immediately clear. The otherwise affable rela tionship between the families is marred by the sale many years past of a strategic strip of Reilly land to the Muldoons. With the Muldoon patriarch having passed away, the contended land now belongs to Rosemary, who is loath to return it. Anthony’s relationships, both with his father and with Rosemary, serve as the dramatic engine of the play, which, more than anything, is a playful consideration of love. During the course of Outside Mullingar, it’s the love stories, both past and present, that drive things, and this lends the play — especially at its finale — a simple sweetness that will have most audience members smiling wide.
Director and BETC co-founder Rebecca Remaly has assembled a stellar cast and gets everything she could want from them. The ever-amazing Chris Kendall rules the Reilly roost with evident pleasure. Billie McBride, another actor of earned renown, shines during her limited time on stage. In the meatiest role, Emily Paton Davies turns in another laudable performance. And even saddled with the play’s least credible story arc, Timothy McCracken makes Tony both interesting and sympathetic.
Accents are always a challenge for actors, and if poorly executed a bad accent can sink an otherwise outstanding performance. All four actors in Outside Mullingar pull off their Irish brogues, which is by no means an easy feat. Dialect Coach Gabriella Cavallero deserves a big round of applause all her own for that triumph.
ON THE BILL: Outside Mullingar, through Oct. 11, Dairy Center for the Arts — Presented by BETC, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7826. Tickets at betc.org. $16 and up.