There are many joys in this world, but chief among them is having an opportunity to watch the very best in action.
The thing that often sets them apart is not the big stuff, but the little things.
It’s Yo Yo Ma, tilting his head so he can better hear the notes from his cello. It’s Tiger Woods in his prime, taking just one more second to check before he strokes a putt. It’s Stephen Colbert that lets you know, if you catch it, that a joke is on the way.
With a cast of masterful actors hewing to equally masterful directions, “Outside MUllingar,” The John Patrick Stanley dark romantic comedy running at Next Act Theatre, it is such little things that prove striking.
The first example comes early when the brilliant James Pickering, playing a crotchety, aging Irish farmer, prepares to add wood to his potbellied kitchen stove.
Before adding the wood, Mr. Pickering touches the top of the stove with a knuckle, checking the heat. It’s a small thing but oh so telling that we are about to watch masters at work.
Set in the rural Irish countryside, Mr. Pickering plays Tony, the widowed farmer who lives with his son, Anthony (David Cecsarini). They have just returned from the funeral for neighbor Christopher Muldoon and are soon joined by his widow Aoife (Carrie Hitchcock), who lives with her daughter Rosemary (Deborah Staples).
The first act is the expected brooding and dark affair. Aofie and Tony discuss their impending deaths, Tony is preparing to leave his world and is determined to keep his son from taking over the farm. “He doesn’t love the earth,” he moans, over and over.
Anthony, for his part, is an unhappy man for reasons yet to be revealed. His relationship with his father is tense and unpleasant, adding to the sullen climate.
Of course this being the Irish, there are moments of high good humor among the melancholy. All three actors have their moments when laughs come easily and often unexpectedly.
Introduced near the end of the first act, Rosemary shows the first glimpses into her relationship with Anthony. Her mother confirms that Rosemary holds a permanent grudge against Anthony stemming from a 30 year old incident when he pushed the six-year-old girl to the ground.
Their farms are separated by a strip of land that Tony sold to Christopher 30 years ago. The land, now owned by Rosemary, requires that Tony go through two gates in order to get from the road to his own home, a fact that gnaws at the old man.
The second act is a tour de force for both Ms. Staples and Mr. Cecsarini, who are real life husband and wife.
Like any good romantic comedy an incredible array of obstacles threaten the journey toward love. He is adamantly reluctant to get involved with her, instead offering to introduce her to his American cousin who is coming to Ireland to find a bride.
Rosemary is aghast at this idea and appalled that he “knocked on my door for your cousin.”
Eventually she plaintively asks “Why didn’t you knock for yourself Anthony?”
As expected, Anthony and Rosemary overcome the odds and thebarriers and end up happily ever after. But it is the journey, directed by Edward Morgan, that is so much fun.
People live and die, argue and love, drink beer and eat stew, shun and embrace – in short a fully Irish thang.
And these four actors are such a special quartet that I could have easily watched another couple of hours of this two-hour journey into the heart. The four of them all delve deep into their characters and bring these four vastly different people fully alive. They do all the big stuff that we expect.
And, they do the little things, that sets them apart from the rest of mere mortals.
Production credits: Director, Edward Morgan; Scenic Design, Rick Rasmussen; Lighting Design,Aaron Sherkow; Costume Design, Dana Brzezinski; Sound Design, Grover Hollway; Properties Design, Heidi Salter; Stage Manager, Jessica Connelly; Dialect Coach, Raeleen McMillion; Production photographer; Ross Zentner.