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‘Outside Mullingar’ is charming despite familiarity

The late Irish poet and dramatist, W.B. Yeats, wrote these lingering lines about his homeland: “Out of Ireland we have come, great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother’s womb a fanatic heart.”

For a quarter century, Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company has specialized in plays about “fanatic hearts.” The list is long – sad, joyous, moody and melancholy, brooding and boisterous, tragic-comic, often funereal stories of family strife and generational grudge. These are tales that, historians note, consistently “blaze and melt.”

The latest addition to the ICTC canon is one of the latest plays by John Patrick Shanley, 2014’s “Outside Mullingar,” a short and quirky – “appallingly entertaining,” hedged the New York Times – love story that offers little that is new but does so in very charming ways. It’s awkward, takes unannounced leaps in time and spends many minutes in the late going in silly metaphor. You see the end coming.

But, you know what? You’ll like it.

Mullingar is an Irish small city, not terribly far from Dublin. Outside of town on ancient land that either lies fallow or grows rocks, live the Reillys and the Muldoons, neighbors who are friendly but nevertheless have battled over a small patch of land dividing their properties, preventing, old Tony Reilly says, his easy access to and from his own house. Tony’s son, Anthony, 40-something, lives and works unhappily at home, grousing about lost opportunities. Anthony has kept a watchful eye on the girl-next-door, pretty Rosemary Muldoon, who also needs to get a life and who professes to disdain Anthony for throwing her into a mud puddle when they were toddlers. Long memory.

And so, the ill family elders, widower Tony and recent widow Aoife Muldoon, refuse to budge on the disputed land, Anthony and Rosemary spar, seemingly unable to get it together. He scoffs at her ability to farm the land: “That’s a two-man job,” he says.

“Or one woman,” she one-ups. He watches her. She watches back. Time passes.

This is all familiar territory so far in “Outside Mullingar” – incidentally, a place of much mention in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and casually referred to in playwright Shanley’s award-winning play, “Doubt” – with deaths, tea at the ready, the land tiff, a contested will, unhappy would-be heirs and emotions kept close to respective vests. As you listen to Tony, Anthony, Aoife and Rosemary you think: I’ve been here before.

But director Fortunato Pezzimenti has a way with these stories; it all seems new.

Of course, a cast with the likes of Guy Wagner, grizzled and cantankerous as old Tony; Pamela Rose Mangus, tart and wise as Aoife; Patrick Moltane, restless and repressed as Anthony; and the nuanced Kate LoConti as the closeted, free-spirited beauty, Rosemary, is invaluable. Some scenes – the tender, heartbreaking minutes by father and son on Tony’s deathbed, the fiery Anthony-Rosemary exchanges before they realize, boy, do we have to make up for lost time – are priceless.

Playwright Shanley once told an interviewer, “We’ve got to live with a full measure of uncertainty.” Everyone in “Outside Mullingar” does, particularly Anthony and Rosemary, who are remindful of a pair of star-crossed lovers from another Shanley story: Ronny and Loretta, of  the latter-day classic, “Moonstruck.”

“Moonstruck in Mullingar.” Close.

REVIEW

3.5 stars

What: “Outside Mullingar”

Where: Irish Classical Theatre Company, 625 Main St.

When: Through Nov.22.

Tickets: $39 general, $20 students

Info: 853-4282, irishclassical.com