"OUTSIDE MULLINGAR," Pioneer Theatre Company, through Nov. 14, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East (801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org); running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
SALT LAKE CITY — Those who grow weary of the same old love stories have nothing to fear from Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Outside Mullingar," which presents a situation that feels somber and familiar yet is sprinkled with surprises.
Lifelong Irish neighbors Rosemary Muldoon (Amy Bodnar) and Anthony Reilly (Tom O'Keefe) are approaching middle age and expecting to inherit their respective family farms. Despite her long-held grudge over an incident from their childhood, Rosemary has always had her sights set on the shy, bumbling Anthony, even to the point of turning away those who've shown an interest in her. But Anthony shows no hint of returning her feelings and is frequently accused of still not being over Fiona, the girl who broke his heart when he was 16.
Both Rosemary's mother, Aoife (Sybil Lines), and Anthony's father, Tony (Max Robinson), are nearing the end of their lives and need to settle their estates. But in a refreshing twist, this story doesn't feature the parents trying to bring their children together. In fact, Tony believes his son will never marry, though Aoife holds out hope for a miracle.
Determined to keep his ancestors' farm in the family, but with Anthony appearing unlikely to have a child to carry on the family name, Tony turns his thoughts to a cousin living in the United States. But potential interest in the farm is dampened due to the two gates one must pass through to access it from the road — gates granting access to the narrow strip of land Anthony sold to the Muldoons years ago, which Rosemary has no intention of relinquishing.
But the gates are only one set of challenges that must be overcome if Rosemary and Anthony are to be together in this at times ponderous, at times dark and frequently funny comedy.
Bodnar anchors the cast with her moody but likable Rosemary, who delivers insights both dark and deep throughout the show. O'Keefe plays Anthony as sweet but a little more distant than the script requires, making it unclear why Rosemary hasn't been able to get over him.
Local favorite Robinson delights again as a gruff but soft Tony full of witticisms and deep-running, lately revealed feelings. Lines' Aoife draws lots of sympathy and laughs but seems at times to be a slight caricature of the woman she ought to be, partially due to an overaged portrayal that's inconsistent with Rosemary's age and made worse by her incredibly old-fashioned, dowdy manner of dress — particularly as the story begins in 2008.
The Irish accents are spot-on but can be difficult to understand when the characters are excited or not facing the audience. The pacing feels a little odd with the majority of the story unfolded carefully and thoughtfully and then the end revelations coming in a disjointed, overacted rush.
Daniel Meeker's set design, enhanced by Phil Monat's lighting, deserves a special mention. Each scene is distinctly atmospheric, and the set changes are smoothly executed to create a magical storybook feeling.
"Outside Mullingar" was written by John Patrick Shanley and was nominated for the 2014 Tony Award for Best Play. Generally clean but a little deep for children, PTC’s solid production delivers many bright moments in a story that often feels overcast.
Content advisory: Mild language and innuendos, alcohol consumption, smoking and discussions of serious topics including suicide