Curtain Call: An Irish love story opens Bethlehem’s season

A crescent moon and a single star were shining in the cloudless sky over Bethlehem’s Abbey of Regina Laudis where the Clay & Wattles Theatre Company opened its summer season. You couldn’t ask for a better background for Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley. A good Irish love story beautifully presented by a talented cast reinforces the fact that this theater group keeps producing top notch plays. Don’t let Bethlehem seem too far for you. It’s right after Southbury and Woodbury. It’s a beautiful drive.

The play opens with Tony Reilly unhappy that Anthony, his 42 year old son, is unmarried. He plans on leaving his farm to a nephew in America because of this. The old man wants the farm to go on. It’s the old way of thinking. Anthony is not married because has had his heart broken by the love of his life. He can’t seem to get beyond the woman’s rejection of him for another. Meanwhile, in the adjacent farm Rosemary Muldoon has been quietly and steadfastly loving Anthony.

It all comes to a head when Anthony tells Rosemary that his cousin from America is coming to Ireland to find a wife. He thinks that Rosemary would be a fine candidate. She is infuriated that Anthony would be willing to pass her off to someone else. She wants to know why he hasn’t claimed her for his own.

Thomas Camm, who directs the play, also takes on the role of Tony Reilly. A chameleon, Camm manages to take on any nationality with authenticity. He has played most of the leading roles at this theater, and he masters all of them. Now as a director, he demonstrates a touch of the poet.

Catherine Annulli plays Aoife Muldoon, Rosemary’s mother, and she does so convincingly and effortlessly. Heather O’Sullivan plays Rosemary with fiery passion and unleashes an inner light to brighten the typically melancholy Irish play. Peter Newes as Anthony commands the stage even when he’s acting shy. His performance is as inspired as it is unforgettable.

Overall, this countryside outdoor theater continues to provide exceptionally fine productions. Mat Wood’s set design captures the very essence of Irish plays in the tradition of Sean O’Casey. There’s a closed in feeling as well as a looming darkness that appropriately pervades the landscape.

Alex Nizet and Sally Camm’s sound design and effects enhance the setting, especially the sound of rain. Jan Gleaon’s lighting, Lesley Neilson Bowman’s costumes, and Melody Asbury and Emma Strenkert’s painting complete the effect. The play runs through June 24. Treat yourself to this charming play beautifully presented on a starlit summer night. Box office: 203-273-5669.

Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is a member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]