By David Dixon
Since late January, a number of local theatergoers have experienced the co-production of Scripps Ranch Theatre and Oceanside Theatre Company’s interpretation of the romantic comedy “Outside Mullingar.” John Patrick Shanley’s script features several quirky characters whose lives are far from normal.
The evening revolves around an unusual relationship between longtime neighbors living in the Midlands of Ireland: Anthony Reilly (Steven Schmitz) and Rosemary Muldoon (Vanessa Dinning). Rosemary deeply cares about Anthony, but he seems hesitant and nervous to start a serious relationship.
Another conflict that builds is whether Anthony’s dad, Tony (Jim Chovick) should sell his farm to his nephew, or if he should give his son the land.
All three performers in “Outside Mullingar” hail from different San Diego neighborhoods. Schmitz lives in Morena, Chovick is a Mission Valley resident and the English-born Dinning currently calls Bankers Hill home.
For about 15 years, Dinning was a tour guide around the UK and Ireland for an American high school educational company, so she is very familiar with Mullingar.
“It’s a rest stop between Dublin and Limerick,” she said. “I associate Mullingar with toilets.”
Before opening night, Dinning shared stories about her experiences in Ireland to give the cast more appreciation for the country.
Shanley’s authentic dialogue requires performers to speak with believable Irish accents. As the dialect coach, Dinning aids the performers with saying each line as correctly as possible.
Teaching an Irish accent to others hasn’t been an issue for Dinning, as she’s taught it to others many times in the past.
“Dialect work isn’t about being perfect,” she said. “The purpose is to use it to help tell the story and help your role.”
Dinning’s co-star Chovick isn’t a stranger to adopting an accent. Last summer, he acted as an Irish monsignor in Moonlight Stage Productions version of the musical, “Sister Act.”
Chovick is open to visiting Ireland in the future.
“I would be more informed if I decide to go,” he said. “That’s the great thing about being an actor.”
He plays the important role of the judgmental and death-obsessed Tony. While he might not always treat his son with respect, Tony’s sense of humor and growth as a person make him a likable parent.
One aspect that attracted Chovick to the production was the opportunity to work again with Moonlight’s former artistic director, Kathy Brombacher.
“I love collaborating with her,” he said. “I trust her and she has pretty hard standards.”
After “Outside Mullingar” closes on Feb. 18, director Brombacher’s version will leave the Scripps Ranch Theatre and find a new home at the Brooks Theatre, with performances starting on Feb. 23.
When Dinning lived in the UK, she often toured different cities.
“That’s how artists in that part of the world make their living,” she said. “We’re getting three days of tech in Oceanside, which is a luxury compared to the short amount of time in other theaters.”
Though Dinning might be used to this process, this is the first time Chovick has been involved in a show that transfers to a different theater.
Yet he doesn’t anticipate the move being a hard adjustment.
“The set is different, but that’s not an issue for the ensemble,” he said. “That’s something for the crew to focus on.”
The box office for “Outside Mullingar” has been strong so far, and Chovick notes theatergoers appear emotionally invested in the central plot.
“I’ve done enough theater to know when people are truly a part of the play,” he said. “Audiences have been laughing a lot and really care about the main couple.”
In a similar fashion to Chovick, Dinning loves Shanley’s script and empathy for the characters.
“I really like that his writing has such heart and makes us feel good about ourselves,” she said. “His script is very joyful.”
Regardless of where you see “Outside Mullingar,” Dinning and Chovick’s performances, Brombacher’s moving storytelling, and Shanley’s wit are only a few of the reasons why the unconventional comedy is well worth the visit. Shanley’s plot is also timely for romantics who want to celebrate an early or belated Valentine’s Day.
“Outside Mullingar” runs through Feb. 18 at the Scripps Ranch Theatre and plays at the Brooks Theatre Feb. 23 through March 11.
— A fan of film and theater from a very young age, David Dixon has written reviews and features for various print and online publications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.