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January 31, 2014

So kiss her already!

In today's Wall Street Journal I review the Broadway premiere of John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar, starring Brían F. O'Byrne and Debra Messing. Here's an excerpt.

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Nine years ago, John Patrick Shanley, a prolific playwright of a certain age who had yet to crack Broadway and was mainly known for having written the screenplay for "Moonstruck," hit the Great Stage Jackpot at long last with "Doubt," a savagely taut morality play about a charismatic priest who may or may not be a child molester. Mr. Shanley's timing couldn't have been better: "Doubt" transferred to Broadway, won the Pulitzer Prize, was turned into a Hollywood film and brought him to the attention of the public at large. Nothing that he's written since then has been nearly as successful, but "Defiance" (2006) and "Storefront Church" (2012), the second and third panels of a trilogy called "Church and State" that started with "Doubt," were very nearly as good, and it's a mystery to me why they failed to go over with audiences.

outside-mullingar-review-debra-messing-featured-618x400.jpgNow Mr. Shanley is back on Broadway with "Outside Mullingar," a romcom set in rural Ireland in which, for the first time in his playwriting life, he draws on his Irish family background. In doing so, he's playing in the big leagues: Brian Friel works the same turf, and Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson, born two generations after Mr. Friel, are coming up fast behind him. What all three men share is an iron determination to steer clear of the sickeningly winsome stereotypes that have long blighted stage and screen portrayals of the Emerald Isle.

As everyone who's seen "Moonstruck" will recall, Mr. Shanley, unlike his colleagues, has a weakness for ethnic whimsy, one that he ruthlessly suppressed in "Doubt" and "Defiance" (a touch of it crept into "Storefront Church"). This time around, by contrast, he's returned to the vein that he tapped in "Moonstruck," but he never stoops to the usual faith-and-begorra clichés in doing so, nor is "Outside Mullingar" a straight replay of his earlier tale of romantic derring-do. The difference lies in the choice of ethnicity. Here as in "Moonstruck," Mr. Shanley is telling a tale of inhibition overcome by love, but he's translated it (so to speak) from Italian to Gaelic, and the results are both charming and dramatically persuasive....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted January 31, 2014 12:00 PM

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