BY SANDY STAGGS
“It will come to you, this love of the land. There’s no getting’ away from it if you’re Irish.”
These words spoken by Scarlet O’Hara’s father reverberate resoundingly in Tryon Little Theatre’s premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s dark romantic comedy “Outside Mullingar.”
With live accordion music by Douglas Hurlbert wafting through the air, patrons enter the TLT Workshop as if they are stepping onto the rolling hills of the Emerald Isle as they admire Lindsey Moore’s authentic cottage set (actually two cottage interiors), flanked by a striking stone barn shed with a thatched roof.
Gingerly directed by recent New York transplant Catherine Gillet, an award-winning playwright and director of the Dark Horse Theatre Project, the Tony-nominated “Outside Mullingar” examines two neighboring farmers who navigate their ancestral ties to their land and their place outside their bucolic bubble in Mullingar. And, of course, their hearts.
Spanning several years and two generations, the story begins after a memorial service for Aoife Muldoon’s husband. Aoife, played by a saucy Rosalind Ashford, another newcomer from New York, in a perfect Irish dialect, is not far behind her deceased spouse since she has emphysema and a pacemaker.
Mark Monaghan, the TLT regular last seen in “Greater Tuna” this summer, is the aging neighbor Tony Reilly who is pondering his own health and demise, as well as the fate of the Reilly farmstead and his only son who has not fled the countryside, Anthony, embodied by Christopher Paul Smith, who is no stranger to Irish playwrights having played the title character in “The Cripple of Inaashman” two years ago at USC Upstate.
What transpires next in this fable by Shanley (Pulitzer Prize winner for “Doubt: A Parable”) is the history of a tiny parcel of land (a right-of-way) that both separates and eternally entangles the Reillys and Ashfords, including the iron-willed Rosemary Muldoon, Tara Sweeney in her TLT debut.
Buoyed by beautiful, moving performances from the elders Monaghan and Ashford, and the understated comic timing and purposefully aloof chemistry of Smith and Sweeney, “Outside Mullingar” guises its global themes of existentiality in a sweet romance that the audience roots for until the end.
“Outside Mullingar” continues Saturday, November 18 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 19 at 3 p.m. at Tryon Little Theater, 516 Trade St. in Tryon, NC. Both shows may be sold out but a waiting list may be available. Call (828) 859-2466 or visit http://www.tltinfo.org.