An Irish love story, Outside Mullingar manages a strange feat: to be traditional and offbeat in equal measure. Little Lake Theatre, which seems made for this kind of intimate four-person show, doesn’t shy away from unusual programming, and thanks to Jena Oberg’s deft direction, this show works both because of, and in spite of, its quirky elements.
Seemingly at the crux of the story, the Reilly and Muldoon families quarrel over a piece of land that divides their properties. Reilly patriarch Tony (Bill Bennett) sold the parcel years ago, but now he wants it back from widow Aoife Muldoon (Martha Bell), so he can auction off the whole estate to an American relative. The Muldoons take umbrage with this proposition, particularly Aoife’s headstrong daughter, Rosemary (Jennifer Sinatra), who has long harbored feelings for Reilly’s son, Anthony (Eric Leslie).
However, as vital as this property dispute sounds, it ultimately proves to be the maguffin of Outside Mullingar. The tract of land arises in conversation when an extra dose of conflict is needed and vanishes when the characters’ bickering over life and love maintains enough tension on its own. Likewise, a clunky back story about Anthony’s lost love, Fiona — who never appears onstage — threatens to bog down the show, but playwright John Patrick Shanley balances the characters’ dwelling on the past with a decided focus on the future. The cast effortlessly handles Shanley’s rapid-fire language, which is a delightful mix of off-the-cuff jokes and profound musings about belonging.
Since this is a tale of family, it’s unfortunate that both Aoife and Tony are left out of the second act, but the dynamic between Anthony and Rosemary is enough to keep the show afloat. Together, they shine in the heartfelt final scenes that spotlight the theme of finding yourself — and your soul mate — in your own backyard. A well-worn tale to be sure, but with a talented cast and director at the helm, Outside Mullingar is anything but trite.