Irish bloom

Outside Mullingar

<p><b>“Why, I oughta …”</b></p>

“Why, I oughta …”

Photo courtesy of Lynnae Vana

Outside Mullingar; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 6:30 p.m Tuesday; 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; $25-$35. B Street Theatre, 2711 B Street; (916) 443-5300; November 23.

Rated 4.0

Is Outside Mullingar a romance, like the B Street Theatre’s recent Provenance? Or is it a romantic comedy? (Rom-coms have long been a B Street staple, after all.)

I’d say “romance,” though there are plenty of laughs stemming from caustic comments by salty parents nearing the end of life, and fumbling overtures between socially awkward adults who’ve never married. Perhaps you could call this one a “comedy of hesitation.”

One thing for sure, Outside Mullingar is Irish—and that’s a category that has always done well on the B Street stage under Buck Busfield’s deft, sympathetic direction.

Mullingar premiered on Broadway earlier this year, and the script is a likely contender for awards. It was written by John Patrick Shanley—you may recall B Street’s 2008 production of Shanley’s Tony-winning drama Doubt, which tells the story of a charismatic, athletic priest suspected of sexual misconduct involving a young male student. The play culminates in a famously ambiguous ending (with the audience left to decide “innocent or guilty?”).

Nothing vague about Mullingar: it’s a sweet story involving boy likes girl (but he can’t get up the nerve to tell her), and girl likes boy (but she swears she’s held a grudge against him since childhood).

However, the boy in this case is a 42-year-old with a touch of gray, and the girl is six years his junior, and they’re hardscrabble farmers in a rural Irish village where family conflicts simmer for generations. (A spat over a scrap of land fuels many conversations in this play.)

David Pierini, wearing a comfy, well-worn white sweater, plays the unconfident, long-suffering Anthony, dutifully caring for his cantankerous old dad (Greg Alexander), a widower who misses few opportunities to remind Anthony that he hasn’t accomplished much in life. And the neighboring farm is home to the attractive but sometimes sharp-tongued Rosemary (Dana Brooke), who puffs a long pipe and doesn’t hesitate to express herself. Rosemary lives with Aoife (Jayne Taini), a widow with a lively tongue who totters around on bad hips.

The play runs about 90 minutes, straight through—the early scenes involve delightful Irish banter, the latter scenes focus on the first, uncertain steps in a late-blooming romance.