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Review Roundup: ‘Outside Mullingar’

Outside Mullingar, the new play by Oscar and Tony-winner John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Doubt), opened Jan. 23 on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre as part of Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2013-14 season. Debra Messing (Will and Grace, Smash) and Brian F. O’Byrne (Doubt, Frozen) star as Rosemary and Anthony, two lonely souls approaching middle age and living on adjoining farms. When Rosemary’s father dies, a land dispute complicates their possible union. Peter Maloney (Judgment at Nuremberg, West Side Story) and Dearbhla Molloy (Dancing at Lughnasa) play Anthony’s crusty father and Rosemary’s wise mother. Doug Hughes, who won a Tony for staging Shanley’s Doubt, directs. Did the critics fall in love with this romantic comedy? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

Brian F. O'Byrne and Debra Messing star in 'Outside Mullingar' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Brian F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing star in ‘Outside Mullingar’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“The wait proves to be a wholly diverting one in Outside Mullingar, which represents Mr. Shanley’s finest work since Doubt, the winner of both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. This isn’t to suggest that they are equally sturdy or significant plays. For all its satisfactions—which include supporting performances to savor from the wonderful Peter Maloney and Dearbhla Molloy—Outside Mullingar is a lighter, slighter play, a softhearted comedy freckled with dark reflections on the unsatisfactory nature of life and the thorns of love. But Mr. Shanley’s lyrical writing, and the flawless production, directed by Doug Hughes for Manhattan Theater Club, give such consistent pleasure that even though we know the equations that define romcoms will add up to the familiar sums, we are happy to watch as they do.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Overall, it’s as if Shanley, director Doug Hughes and the Manhattan Theatre Club had been afraid to let this play be as small as it needs to be. Even the production overcompensates, with meticulous rotating sets by John Lee Beatty and elaborate water effects.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“The love bug has stung John Patrick Shanley again. That’s obvious from his new play, Outside Mullingar, a modest and quirky little heart-tugger. Like his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, the play is a valentine to the wonder and weirdness of love.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“Mullingar is Shanley’s best play since Doubt, and like that hit from a decade ago, it’s lean, dialectical and packed with wise saws and aphoristic gems. The Irish setting also gives him license to wax lyrical-pastoral—a pleasure if you’ve no allergy to rants and blarney.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“It’s a huge plus that Shanley and director Doug Hughes (also his collaborator for Doubt and Defiance) have the immensely talented Brian F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing, in her Broadway debut, playing their will-be couple. O’Byrne’s Anthony is an awkward loner for whom any degree of social interaction is a hurdle, but he conveys a sort of blunt integrity and a disarming sweetness that make it plausible a feisty beauty like Rosemary would fall for him. Rosemary has her own neurotic tics, visible despite the brittle exterior she has developed to ward off various wooers. In Messing’s funny, moving performance, we see how Anthony breaks through that armor.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“Debra Messing and Brian F. O’Byrne are so, what’s a more grown-up word for adorable? –charming? irresistible? combustible?—together that we wish this romantic comedy would go on for hours. The problem is that Outside Mullingar is only a romantic comedy for the last altogether enchanting scene. For the rest of John Patrick Shanley’s 95-minute oddity, we are thrust into some cartoon universe, where rural Irish folk speak wisdom in kooky locutions, fester on peculiar grudges and debate whether shy, middle-aged, hardworking Anthony Reilly (O’Byrne) loves the farm enough to inherit it from his cranky old dad.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“It may not be as dramatic as Doubt or as funny as Moonstruck, but John Patrick Shanley has not written a more beautiful or loving play than Outside Mullingar. The rural dialect spoken on the farms and villages of Ireland translates into prickly poetry under Doug Hughes’ helming of this bittersweet family drama about the unresolved issues between cantankerous parents and their obstinate offspring. Playing neighbors whose families are caught up in a bizarre feud over a contested strip of land that separates their two farms, Debra Messing and Brian F. O’Byrne are a match made in heaven.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Hitting a sweet spot that recalls his Oscar-winning screenplay for MoonstruckJohn Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar is a charmer of a play about a hesitant romance stalled by petty grievances and misunderstandings. Unapologetic sentimentality without too much treacle isn’t easy to do, but the playwright pulls it off with confidence.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Messing acquits herself well in her Broadway debut. Though she seems ill at ease through the first half of the show, too aware of the audience and of the effort to keep up her accent, she settles in toward the end when she’s able to deploy her gifts for physical comedy honed on eight seasons of Will & Grace. O’Byrne, a Shanley veteran who originated the priest role in his 2004 play Doubt, is on surer footing throughout, with a soulfulness borne of a thousand petty (and not so petty) slights.”

Steven Suskind, Huffington Post
“Outside Mullingar is another homegrown production of Manhattan Theatre Club, which has now produced ten Shanley plays. Director Doug Hughes, also from Doubt, keeps the action moving smoothly between the four sets and sustains the mood over one hundred intermissionless minutes. Not the least of Outside Mullingar‘s delights is the rain-soaked scenery by John Lee Beatty, which provides its own magic in the final scene.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“While the play itself is meandering and uneventful, it opens up considerably in the heartwarming final scene where Anthony and Rosemary finally connect in spite of their hesitations and quirks. It serves as a hearty payoff after over an hour of straight boredom.”

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