Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 24, 2019

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Outside Mullingar

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 13, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
John Patrick Shanley’s endearing comedy, “Outside Mullingar,” provides a character study of human relationships and family dynamics. Set in rural Ireland, the play begins on the day of a funeral. Aiofe suffers from emphysema, and is brilliantly played by Deborah Hedwall with believable breathlessness and an impeccable sense of comic timing. She is from the same generation as her neighbor, Tony, forcefully played by Jeffrey DeMunn, the quintessential older Irishman who belittles his son for the silliest of reasons. His obstinacy sets up one of the most moving and beautiful scenes of the play in which he confronts his own mortality in a conversation with his middle-aged son, Anthony. The truth and beauty of this scene is reason enough to see this production.

As Aiofe and Tony face their own inevitable deaths, their children, now middle-aged confront their own histories and give the audience hope that love is possible at any age. Anthony, played with appropriate reserve by James McMenamin, and the feisty Rosemary Muldoon, energetically portrayed by Shannon Marie Sullivan, deal with their own history and gives hope that this play, that starts with death, will have not only a happy ending, but one that reaffirms Irish traditions of family and land.

Director Karen Allen has chosen to present this hour and forty-minute play in one-act, and what a good decision that proves to have been. The characters and story benefit from the ethos that represents tradition, Ireland’s rural beauty, and its impoverished past. Scenic designer John McDermott’s clever sets and picturesque projection of the land serve as fitting backdrops to the story that is essentially talky. The genuine wit and wisdom of Shanley’s words shine through, and Allen’s use of space between and among the actors on stage underscore the relationships and heartbreaking honesty of the emotions.  

How refreshing it is to see a beautifully crafted script come to life by means of such gifted artistry. Congratulations to Berkshire Theatre Group for providing audiences with such a beautifully rendered production that gets to the heart of human behavior.