“Outside Mullingar,” which is being presented at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick through Nov. 2, is about two people entering middle age in a state of uncertainty. Anthony (John Bolger) and Rosemary (Ellen McLaughlin) have been neighbors their whole lives in rural Ireland. They’re not kindred spirits, exactly, but they are fond of each other, and it seems inevitable that they will become a couple.
And yet they have resisted. The reasons are not clear, at first.
The play, too, does a fair bit of postponing, with lots of sharply crafted dialogue from playwright John Patrick Shanley (best known for “Doubt”) early on, but not much of a sense that this is all headed in a particularly rewarding direction. But then you get to the last scene — when all is revealed, the fireworks finally fly and some genuine surprises take this beyond the realm of a predictable love story — and you understand what Shanley is doing.
In other words, the first hour or so of the play isn’t all that absorbing, but the last half-hour makes it all worthwhile. The payoff is big enough to make the slow going of the early scenes forgivable.
McLaughlin and Bolger are convincing as the slightly flinty Rosemary and the shy, quiet Anthony, though McLaughlin’s accent seems to veer away from Irish and towards something Eastern European at times. Patricia Conolly, as Rosemary’s mother, and David Schramm, as Anthony’s father, add solid support. Their characters’ lives are platonically entwined just as much as Rosemary’s and Anthony’s are — a nice, subtle touch by Shanley.
The sets aren’t particularly elaborate, which is fitting: These are humble people. Still, Anthony’s shabby, messy living room mirrors his somewhat defeated state of mind, while the sparkling cleanliness of Rosemary’s kitchen symbolizes her desire for something more out of life. (These characters live on farms, yet this play, which is largely about psychological constraints, takes place mostly indoors).
There’s nothing fancy in the direction by David Saint (George Street Playhouse’s artistic director) beyond using rain as a special effect. But again, that’s fitting. It’s a simple, direct play; there’s not much action beyond the talking. But since there’s so much action in the talking, that okay.
The Celtic quartet Brosna will present a free show at George Street Playhouse’s Cabaret lobby space Oct. 18, following the 8 p.m. “Outside Mullingar” performance.