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Theatre review: 'Outside Mullingar' -- 2.5 stars

"Outside Mullingar"

"Outside Mullingar" Credit: Brian F. O'Byrne and Debra Messing in "Outside Mullingar"

Playwright John Patrick Shanley, who achieved phenomenal success with his compelling, Pulitzer-winning drama “Doubt” and its starry film version, has been far less lucky with his subsequent plays.

“Defiance” and “Storefront Church,” which completed his politically-oriented “Church and State” trilogy that began with “Doubt,” turned out to be far weaker works. And “Romantic Poetry,” a tender-hearted musical which Shanley directed and also wrote book and lyrics for, was absolutely awful.

So it’s not surprising to find Shanley going in a new direction with “Outside Mullingar,” a sentimental mix of family drama, romantic comedy and Irish accents. It’s being billed as the “Irish Moonstruck” in light of Shanley’s Oscar-winning screenplay to the 1987 film with Cher.

Set in contemporary rural Ireland, it focuses on Anthony (Brian F. O’Byrne) and Rosemary (Debra Messing), 40-something, non-married adults who live next to each other. Although these painfully shy and sweet individuals would make an ideal couple, they have long been torn apart by petty family squabbling, as represented by Antony’s father Tony (Peter Maloney) and Rosemary’s mother Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy).

While the play itself is meandering and uneventful, it opens up considerably in the heartwarming final scene where Anthony and Rosemary finally connect in spite of their hesitations and quirks. It serves as a hearty payoff after over an hour of straight boredom.

Messing, who is making her Broadway debut, has noticeable difficulty handling an Irish accent but still manages to make her character sympathetic and endearing. Byrne, who originated the role of Father Flynn in “Doubt,” foregoes his charismatic intensity and makes for an unexpectedly cute and quirky counterpart to Messing.

If you go: “Outside Mullingar” plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through Mar. 16. 261 W. 47th St.

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