It took John Patrick Shanley four decades to fully embrace his Irish identity.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter grew up in the Bronx, and he spent the first chunk of his professional career in a kind of personal denial. Until age 40, Shanley worked hard to avoid any nod to his pure Irish genealogy in his creative work. He wrote plays and films such as “Italian American Reconciliation” and “Moonstruck,” works that focused on Italian Americans. The drama “Doubt: A Parable,” which earned Shanley a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 2005, focused on the New York neighborhoods of his youth in the 1960s and their decidedly American inhabitants.
It was only during a visit to his father’s family farm in the Irish midlands, that Shanley, 40, discovered a route to his own familial roots. It was a revelatory journey that Shanley wrote about 20 years later in the introduction to his 2014 play “Outside Mullingar”; it was a homecoming that revealed Ireland as “the lost and beautiful world of my poet’s heart,” as he wrote in the New York Times.
That very personal connection to the Emerald Isle is clear in the drama, pathos and romance of “Outside Mullingar.” The world of the play is the world of the isolated countryside and the unforgettable characters of the Irish midlands. The action, the angst and the amour of the show have their genesis in Shanley’s first visit to the native country of his father.
“The play is actually very particular to Shanley’s own experiences,” said Rebecca Remaly Weitz, who is directing the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of the show, which launches Thursday at The Dairy Center for the Arts. “Shanley has this wonderful way of taking these people who have a lot of contradictions, which I think is really quite representative of the human condition … His characters have an inner imagined life that’s very childlike, really going back to that time in our lives when we thought that anything was possible, when we weren’t constrained by the day-to-day of being an adult.”