John Patrick Shanley's 'Outside Mullingar' richly realized at Skokie's Northlight Theatre

  • Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry, right) has some harsh words for her neighbor, Tony Reilly (William J. Norris), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry, right) has some harsh words for her neighbor, Tony Reilly (William J. Norris), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

  • Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry) serves a glass of Guinness to her neighbor, Anthony Reilly (Mark L. Montgomery), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry) serves a glass of Guinness to her neighbor, Anthony Reilly (Mark L. Montgomery), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

  • Tony Reilly (William J. Norris, seated) has doubts about his son, Anthony (Mark L. Montgomery), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    Tony Reilly (William J. Norris, seated) has doubts about his son, Anthony (Mark L. Montgomery), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

  • Anthony Reilly (Mark L. Montgomery) is confronted by his neighbor, Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    Anthony Reilly (Mark L. Montgomery) is confronted by his neighbor, Rosemary Muldoon (Kate Fry), in the Chicago-area premiere of John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Irish comedy "Outside Mullingar" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

 
 
Posted3/25/2015 5:00 AM

John Patrick Shanley's 2014 Broadway comedy "Outside Mullingar" makes a strong Midwest debut at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Yet you can bet that some theatergoers will dismiss it as "slight."

That's because "Outside Mullingar" doesn't carry the same dramatic weight as Shanley's 2005 drama "Doubt," which won multiple theater awards and still holds sway as a modern American classic.

 

It's more fair to compare the Tony-nominated "Outside Mullingar" with Shanley's Academy Award-winning 1987 screenplay for "Moonstruck." Taken on these terms, "Outside Mullingar" emerges as a richly rewarding comedy to explore long-standing neighborly grudges and long-delayed love among quirky and superstitious Irish farmers.

Shanley's comedy abounds in snappy dialogue and pained comic situations. But "Outside Mullingar" also achieves an emotional depth, wistfully looking at unrequited love and parental disappointments.

Initially the play centers around a petty land dispute. Tony Reilly (William J. Norris) has tried for years to buy back a narrow strip of land he sold to his neighbor, Christopher Muldoon. Yet Reilly and his son, Anthony (Mark L. Montgomery), are nowhere closer to reclaiming the property even after Muldoon's funeral, since his fiery daughter, Rosemary (Kate Fry), has her own long-standing grudge that fuels her refusal to sell. And that's despite prodding to end the dispute from her mother, Aoife (Annabel Armour).

In addition to those arguments, Shanley uncovers more emotionally wrenching character conflicts. Particularly galling is Reilly's distrust of his son inheriting the family farm.

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Director BJ Jones and his highly polished cast not only have the comedic rhythms marvelously honed, they also reveal their characters' inner turmoil with touching shows of emotion.

As the lumbering Anthony, Montgomery impresses thanks to his twitchy facial tics that indicate a manly man who is truly pained at sharing any kind of tender feelings. And as the brusque Rosemary, Fry clearly gets across her character's thoughtful, long-game strategizing in the face of so much stubborn male pride.

Armour and Norris also do sharp work as the elderly parents, especially Norris who deftly handles Tony's heartbreaking confession.

So even though "Outside Mullingar" may not court heated debate like Shanley's "Doubt" (which will be revived next month by Writers Theatre in Glencoe), it has its own vital rewards as a comedy that delves deep into family and neighborly conflicts. There's nothing slight about that.

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