The Rep has already extended its run of John Patrick Shanley’s Irish love story, and with good reason. The play and the production are a treat.
Mullingar’s a bit reminiscent of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly. Both plays have around 90 minutes to bring a man and a woman, apparently at deep odds, together.
Unlike the plays of, say, Martin McDonaugh — where the grim gets grimmer and then turns pro — Mullingar has a kind of safety net: no matter what its four characters say or threaten to do, things aren’t as grim as they seem.
Shanley plays with the notion of “so near yet so far away.” The Reillys and Muldoons have neighboring farms outside Killucan, Ireland. Thirty years ago, Tony Reilly sold a 40-meter strip of land to Chris Muldoon for 200 pounds. Ever since, to reach the frontage road, the Reillys must open a gate, pass through the Muldoons’ property, and open another gate.
But why did Tony sell the little strip of land? And why won’t he bequeath the farm to his long-suffering son Anthony? Tony says it’s because he’s “half a ghost and mad as the full moon” and doesn’t draw strength from the land.
And why did Anthony, on his 13th birthday, push young Rosemary, age six, to the ground shortly before Tony made the deal? The families have lived side-by-side for 30 years with official answers to questions, and they’re dead wrong. As a result, the Reillys and Muldoons don’t know the first thing about each other.
So, Rosemary, now 36 and never married, sees “disaster where others see green fields”; Anthony, 42 and lamb-innocent, hears voices in those self-same fields but will not heed their call.
The playwright has 90 minutes to lock the farm’s gates and thicken the bottleneck in between. Then he must somehow push them down and cinch the deal in the final sentence. If you don’t look too closely at some fibs here and there, he makes it happen.
Mullingar is a rural village west of Dublin famous for its lakes and Mullingar pewter. For the Rep, scenic designer Giulio Cesare Perrone effectively blurs the line between inside and outside. Lopped trunks of white-barked trees serve as the legs for a table for one scene; the outdoors for another, and also suggest bollard-like gates blocking the right-of-way.
A gray-patina and chipped paint, enhanced by Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting and her and David Scott’s projections, add to the atmosphere.
Anastasia Pautova’s layered costumes, by their looks alone, lower room temperature to an Irish February.
Director Todd Salovey smartly cast Rep favorites Mike Genovese and his wife Ellen Crawford as Tony Reilly and Aoife Muldoon. They give the old neighbors an ingrained familiarity that goes beyond acting.
Though they have some vocally strident moments, Manny Fernandes and Carla Harting fare quite well as Anthony Reilly and Rosemary Muldoon, the ugly ducklings who may find their inner swan.
San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego. Playing through February 21.