Emerald Isle enchantment
OCT’s “Outside Mullingar” lightens things up with a sweet Irish romance, enhanced by an elaborate set and a new state-of-the-art projection system.
Bookended by Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, Ocala Civic Theatre’s production of “Outside Mullingar” should have Irish eyes smiling and everyone else feeling more than a wee bit delighted as the critically acclaimed comedy takes over OCT’s stage from March 2 through March 19.
The Ireland-set play by John Patrick Shanley (“Doubt” and “Moonstruck”) follows Anthony Reilly (Scott Fitzgerald) and Rosemary Muldoon (Gina England), middle-aged unmarried neighbors in rural central Ireland. When Anthony’s father (Gregory Doss) threatens to disinherit his son because of his lack of interest in their farm and animal husbandry, Rosemary intervenes, and her widowed mother (Ginny Y. Riley) steps into the fray. As the four characters banter, the audience becomes privy to some poignant and absurdly hilarious moments.
The play’s most endearing moments unfold between Anthony and Rosemary. Rosemary tries to win him over amid the turmoil around them and Anthony’s hard-headed oblivion to her feelings. As the lead characters gradually open up, their exchange tiptoes toward tender revelation.
Dialogue-driven and rife with Irish wit and sass, “Outside Mullingar” organically parallels the mellow pace of life in the Irish Midlands
That’s not to say the play is dull. Jaw-dropping scenic stage elements transport the audience to Midlands, Ireland. From the pitter-patter of rain to landscaping with real Ocala trees to world-class projections of countryside panoramas and moving clouds over meadows, beamed from the theater’s new state-of-the-art projection system, “Outside Mullingar” marks a major production milestone for OCT.
The Irish comedy also commemorates Greg Thompson’s directorial debut as OCT’s new artistic director.
“’Outside Mullingar’ is just so special, charming and transcendent,” Thompson effused while in rehearsal. “When I read it on the plane, I felt like I was on a flight to Ireland. It really takes you there. I was absolutely in love with it.”
Thompson emphasized that he guided the production with “a light touch” and deferred to the actors in their character development.
“I’ve tried to pinpoint the beats (the smallest units of action in a play) that are comical, and the beats that are farcical just here and there, just a little touch of it to set a certain pace and tone,” Thompson explained. “Then I leave it alone because it really hinges on humor, not comedy. I wanted to make sure that we don’t overshadow the simple fact that ‘Outside Mullingar’ is really meant to be simplistic and humanistic, and rooted in humor.”
As the play’s director, Thompson approached the cast the same way he approached their movement about the stage, allowing them a lot of space to come up with their own natural gestures and inflections.
Of the leads England and Fitzgerald, he said, “They’re bringing interesting, charming moments to the play. They’re just so good.”
And for those concerned they might not understand the Irish dialogue, Thompson said that he injected some dialogue and pacing that reflects an “American sensibility” to ensure that the play moves in a direction that American theatergoers will better understand.
Sharing the spotlight, the production crew comes through brilliantly, from the modest costume designs of Genevieve McCormick to the sound design of expert audio guru Jim Foster to the breathtakingly atmospheric lighting and scenic design and projection effects of Barry Steele.
Steele, a visual designer from St. Petersburg, collaborated with Thompson to come up with the scenic visuals for the theater’s 30,000-lumen high-definition Barco laser projector.
“It’s a major investment in projection technology for contemporary storytelling,” Steele said.
Of his technique, Steele says he pays focused attention to the context of what’s going on onstage.
“Context is super important because when you come and see the show or read the play,” Steele said, “you’ll see how just the history of the Midlands and these families have to do with everything that they talk about and their problems and what they see as their solutions. So, Greg (Thompson) is just this incredible director who is able to give us, the actors and his designer collaborators that kind of backstory to make the world live for us.”
For more information about showtimes and tickets, visit ocalacivictheatre.com.