It has to be one of the strangest and funniest love scenes ever. Middlebury Acting Company opened an hilarious and deeply touching production of John Patrick Shanley’s 2014 romantic comedy “Outside Mullingar” — and it was ever so Irish — under a tent behind the Swift House Inn. The final performance is Sunday.
In this amazing soap opera romance, Tony Reilly and Aoife Muldoon, both now elderly, own adjoining small farms in rural Ireland. Their children, Anthony and Rosemary, have never been able to deal with their attraction for each other — and now she’s nearly 40 and he’s 42.
And the key to just about everything is a contested tiny right of way in front of Tony’s property.
Following the funeral for Christopher Muldoon, Aoife’s husband, she and her daughter visit Tony and Anthony, only Rosemary remains outside smoking. In the kind of revelations reserved for funeral days, Tony is pressed by Aoife to reveal to Anthony that he has no intention of revealing the land to Anthony — because he doesn’t have faith in Anthony, though he’s been working the farm by himself for years.
Aoife also informs Anthony that Rosemary has nurtured a grudge against him — for knocking her to the ground when she was 6 and he was 13.
Believe it or not, all these disparate strange events coalesce into a deep romantic — and very Irish — tapestry.
And this most unusual tale proved delightful and compelling in the Middlebury Acting Company production, directed by Melissa Lourie, the professional company’s founder and artistic director. With very few awkward moments, the ensemble work was nearly seamless, fun and touching. The Irish accents were authentic enough to believe, but not so much so as to be unintelligible.
It’s difficult to decide which pair was more fun — each had its own brand of humor. Gary Smith as the curmudgeonly Tony and Mary Adams-Smith as the cynical Aoife, a real-life professional theater couple, enjoyed some delightful and fierce repartee. It took an awful lot of digging to discover just how much they cared for their children.
And Alexandra Hudson’s Rosemary was as tough as Eric Reid St. John’s Anthony was enigmatically strange (nuts?). Watching them both struggle — against themselves — was frustrating. And joyful. (Hudson was also the dialect coach.)
Presenting this multi-location play on one platform under a tent could become a major issue, but set designer Kate Tilton made it work. With atmospheric lighting by Josh Cote and appropriate costuming by Markay Dempewolff, the intimacy of the minimal staging made for a deeply felt theater experience.
Middlebury Acting Company’s “Outside Mullingar” was filled with humor, frustration and joy.
Because of COVID concerns, proof of vaccination and masks are required for admission to performances.