The Political Correctness Police seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the Irish. Racial slurs against African Americans, Asians, etc. are obviously right out. Heaven forbid you should question Caitlyn Jenner’s beauty or courage. And you can’t call the 350-pound, 5-foottall woman at 7-Eleven clutching a 64-ounce Double Gulp full of soda in one hand and three orders of nachos in the other “fat.” But jokes about drunken Paddy getting jiggy with a sheep on his way home to his 15 kids still get the thumbs up from pretty much everyone.
So the first reason among many to praise John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar is that it gives nods to some of the classic Irish stereotypes without lampooning them. Its four characters all, at times at least, exhibit the characteristic querulousness for which the Irish are known. The four also embody, to varying degrees, the lyrically fatalistic faith typical to Irish country folk in particular. Guinness is drank and pubs are mentioned, but none of the four are lushes. Ireland’s failure to win any gold medals — even in boxing — at the 2008 Olympics is the only reference to any proclivity for fisticuffs.
Shanley, an American of Irish descent, clearly knows his ancestral home. With Outside Mullingar, Shanley paints a picture of modern-day, rural Ireland that’s both vivid and softfocused, both grounded and fantastical. Outside Mullingar is a well-crafted comedy containing just a skosh of pathos. It’s a good, if not excellent, play with broad appeal, and it’s no wonder why the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) chose it to open its 10th season.
It’s hard to believe that BETC has already been around for 10 seasons. Owing in large part to its consistently expert productions and its penchant for producing challenging, novel material, BETC continues to feel like a young company. At nearly 10 years old, however, BETC has matured into a formidable theatrical organization, a fact underscored by its recent receipt of a National Theatre Grant from the American Theatre Wing, the group that created the Tony Awards.