In scene ii of “Outside Mullingar,” John Patrick Shanley’s lovely Irish comedy, 42-year-old bachelor farmer Anthony (David Kenner) says “There’s the green fields, and the animals living off them. And over that there’s us, living off the animals. And over that there’s that which tends to us and lives off us.”
This comment touches on one of the script’s chief themes: grace.
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: through Oct. 16
HOW MUCH: $50-$20, adults; $16, students
MORE INFO: 445.7469, or capitalrep.org
When the play opens, cantankerous 75-year-old Tony (Kenneth Kimmins) and son Anthony are returning home after the funeral of their next-door neighbor, arguing about sore subjects and bringing up the past. The neighbor’s widow, Aoife (Laurie O’Brien), stops by and puts in her two cents, wondering aloud about the future of her 37-year-old unmarried daughter, Rosemary (Kim Stauffer). Rosemary has rejected numerous suitors; instead, she stays home, idly dreaming about China because she was intrigued by the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What can redeem Tony, Anthony, and Rosemary? “That which tends to us,” and in scene iv of Act I, Tony describes such an intervention by the breath of God years before. From then on we are alert to other mystical moments — weather, coincidences, dreams — that betoken grace.
At first I was a little uncertain if Act II measured up to Act I, but it does. Now the focus is on Anthony and Rosemary, whose loads have been lightened and who thus have a chance to get out of their own ways. The script’s playfulness, coupled with almost giddy anticipation on our part, make for a satisfying conclusion.
Ken Goldstein’s spare scenic design (replete with an impressive special effect) perfectly captures place. Michael Giannitti’s lighting design is notworthy in scene iv, where a moving father-son Pieta is evoked; Jamie Bullard’s sound design is appropriately atmospheric, and Bethany Marx’s costumes (like stolid Anthony’s outerwear in Act II!) are apt.
Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill paces the push me-pull you tensions beautifully. O’Brien’s sweet Aoife seems the sanest of the bunch, but her comment about the taste of glass suggests the bar is set low. Kimmins’s big wide grin and hearty laugh reveal one side of Tony, and that shattering monologue in the bedroom scene reveals another.
Stauffer’s Rosemary is an exhausted — and exhausting — bundle of contradictions, smoking self-destructively here, threatening the old folks there, hanging on Anthony’s every word, yet keeping a shotgun against the day she might have to use it on herself. And Kenner makes Anthony the “intense dreamer” the script calls for, as he spouts philosophy without really knowing he’s doing so, struggles with loss, and prefers the outdoors to the indoors. Both Stauffer and Kenner’s work in Act II is superb, physically and emotionally right on the edge in this critical moment.
As widow Aoife says, “Was I only born to bury and be buried?” But she consoles herself by stating that it’s the middle that’s the best part. “Outside Mullingar” is about the humor and pathos — and grace — of that middle.