You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘Outside Mullingar’

This tender family drama by John Patrick Shanley is brought to life by a letter-perfect cast that includes Debra Messing.


Brian O'Byrne, Debra Messing, Peter Maloney, Dearbhla Molloy.

It may not be as dramatic as “Doubt” or as funny as “Moonstruck,” but John Patrick Shanley has not written a more beautiful or loving play than “Outside Mullingar.” The rural dialect spoken on the farms and villages of Ireland translates into prickly poetry under Doug Hughes’ helming of this bittersweet family drama about the unresolved issues between cantankerous parents and their obstinate offspring. Playing neighbors whose families are caught up in a bizarre feud over a contested strip of land that separates their two farms, Debra Messing and Brian F. O’Byrne are a match made in heaven.

The most colorful language in this chatty play is uttered by Tony Reilly, a crabby old coot played to a fare-thee-well by Peter Maloney, a stage lifer who has earned this meaty role.  Although he’s pretty much relinquished all the farm chores to his son, Anthony (O’Byrne), this domestic tyrant still rules the roost from his battered armchair in the kitchen. (If the place weren’t such a housekeeping disaster, you could move right in to John Lee Beatty’s meticulous replication of a farmhouse kitchen.)

Tony is none too pleased to learn that Anthony has invited their next-door neighbors, Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy) and her daughter Rosemary (Messing), to stop in for a visit. Having just buried her husband that morning, Aoife could use some cheering up. But the grieving widow isn’t getting any sympathy from Tony. “When the husband goes, the wife follows,” he warns her. “You’ll be dead in a year.”

Aoife may have one foot in the grave, but in Molloy’s tough-as-boots perf, her native wit and tart tongue have kept her in fighting shape. The old lady is not so feeble, after all, once she and Tony resume their ongoing, bitterly funny battle over a tiny patch of land that plays a big role in their history. But in a smart about-face, the elders gang up on Anthony, blaming him and his generation for everything from the sorry state of the Irish economy to the national soccer team’s poor showing in the Olympic Games.

Although all this negativity has worn him down, what really stings Anthony is his father’s threat to bequeath the family farm to a relative who lives in America.

“You don’t love it” is Tony’s devastating assessment of his son’s feelings about farming.  “You don’t have joy.”  To which cold sentiments Anthony responds: “Some of us don’t have joy. But we do what we must.”

That exchange, among many like it, smartly captures the harsh beauty of Shanley’s dramatic voice. Born into the rigors of farm life, his farmers speak a blunt, earthy idiom.  But being Irish, they can’t help themselves from putting a lyrical spin on their dark thoughts and bleak language.

As much hurt by his father’s rejection as angered by the loss of his birthright, Anthony stumbles out of the house and into the rain. Here he finds Aoife’s daughter, Rosemary, a fiercely independent free spirit in Debra Messing’s amazing perf. Hot-tempered and “stubborn to the point of madness,” according to her secretly proud mother, this redheaded fury is pacing the ground, smoking her dead father’s pipe and raring for a good fight when Anthony steps into firing range.

The sparks between these two would keep a bonfire blazing through the night.  But they’re Irish and stubborn to the core, so for all their sexually fraught sparring (“Your eyes have pagan things in them sometimes,” Rosemary tells Anthony), it still takes them another year and one last breathtaking scene before they find each other.

It’s a well-spent year, dramatically speaking, because Shanley makes use of it to bring father and son together in a reconciliation scene so tenderly written and beautifully played that it would melt a stone.

Broadway Review: 'Outside Mullingar'

Samuel J. Friedman Theater; 650 seats; $125 top. Opened Jan. 23, 2014. Reviewed Jan. 16. Running time: ONE HOUR, 35 MIN.


A Manhattan Theater Club production of a play in one act by John Patrick Shanley.  


Directed by Doug Hughes.  Sets, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Mark McCullough; original music & sound, Fitz Patton; hair & wigs, Tom Watson; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, Winnie Y. Lok.


Brian O'Byrne, Debra Messing, Peter Maloney, Dearbhla Molloy.

More Legit

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content