I returned from Pittsburgh about a week ago, and am pleased to report
that not only is it still there, but it is a better place to find parking than most of Seattle. In addition, the Steel city also has an
increasing number of really good places to eat. But, alas, I must also report
that I have done too much of the latter in recent months, such that I really
need to shed a few pounds.
I must admit I am overweight, and have been for the past two
decades (at least). The stylish photo to the right of this text shows me in my
natural garb, but conceals an increasingly large waistline. I rarely button my
overshirts, and get pants with elastic waistbands from Big Ed’s Hulking and
Huge store. Still, I have not until this trip realized how far down the road I have gotten.
The first warning came from Rex Stout, through his creation Nero Wolfe. I’ve been reading the Wolfe detective novels in the Bantam series of the books, and the early one
placed the corpulent hero at a seventh of a ton, or 285 pounds. Which was my fighting weight about 15 pounds ago.
Yes, later (post-depression) books boosted the weight to tipping the scales at nearly 400, but
still, when you state that this detective sat around the office, he sat around the office, you must give pause to realize he was lighter than I currently am.
Then the airline industry got into the act. Two of my four
flights this trip required a seat belt extender, and for one I had to move my seat from
the emergency row (because one cannot wear a seat belt extender in the emergency
row - of course I checked later) and so I was packed off the back of the airplane, where a smaller seat with
less leg-room was provided, but at least I could wear the extra four inches of
fabric to keep me from leaving my seat during an emergency. (and mind you, two the four flights had sufficiently long
belts, and they were on older planes, which can lead one to conclude the it was
the belts that got shorter as opposed to my waistband longer, but still, I am
apparently eating my way out of particular seat class).
And then there was the car rental. I have a long torso, so
the Nissan line of mid-sized was out due the fact I would have to crouch to see
through the windscreen. But to discover I could no longer slip behind the wheel
of a Chevy Cruz was maddening. I pulled the seat all the way back and pushed
the steering column up and still found I could not enter the car without using
the Ryker Maneuver over the steering wheel. So that is another warning, and I
fear I am going back to watching what I eat, and eating less of it.
Which is easier now than earlier, because Pittsburgh has a
growing number of excellent places to eat. To wit – Andora on Mt Nebo Road is
particularly nice, with a variety in house specials and, most important to the Lovely Bride, an excellent patio garden. Their shrimp bisque is very good. Mallorca on the East Carson Street, right at the end of the Birmingham Bridge, was a
true delight and discovery, specializing in Spanish Cuisine (which is not
Mexican, but really SPANISH). The prosciutto filled squid was excellent and the
veal was tender enough to cut with the side of one’s fork (this is preferred, according to my
sister-in-law in the restaurant business). And more on the workaday end, the
Paradise Island Bowl on Neville island makes a darn good cheesesteak panini,
and has a summertime patio from which you can enjoy the river.
But alas, all those pleasures must be put aside for a while,
since I am now verging on the level that I will not be marketed to, and instead
suffer a bit of economic fat-shaming. I should be grumpier about it, and will
likely be so after a week on water and flerkorn from IKEA.
Outside Mulligar by John Patrick Shaneley, directed by Wilson Milam, Through May 17
What is it about Irish plays? Or rather, what is it about plays about the Irish? Plays about the English, the French, or the Americans all embrace differing groups or attitudes, but if the play is about the Irish, then the overstuffed cupboard door gives way and let all the tropes, archetypes, and stereotypes come flying out. Rural poverty. Drinking. Violence. Depression. Grand gestures. Oaths. Tempers. Family feuds. Superstition. Signs and voices. Religion. Self-destructive behavior of all types. It is like that when you choose to write about the Irish, you get a kit, and you're expected to use all the tropes in the kit.
I can see how it attracts, of course. The language can be eloquent, and an Irish lilt can make even asking for directions to the bus stop seem otherworldy. Initially, the words seem to come tumbling out at such a rate that you feel like you've grabbed onto a moving roller coaster, but soon the calluses in your eardrums build up and you can follow well enough. And one of the tropes of the Irish play is that its characters simultaneously speak their minds and hearts without thinking, plus are emotionally prickly enough to take offense at anything being said.
So, anyway, Outside Mulligar is a relatively simple comedy wrapped up in tropish Ireland, where no Blarney Stone goes unturned. The Muldoons and the Reillys have been neighbors and rivals for generations. At one point father Tony Reilly (Sean G. Griffin) sold the road access for his farm to the Muldoons, and this has been a burr in the saddle for Reilly and his son Anthony (M.J. Sieber) ever since. The passing of the Muldoon patriarch creates a chance to get the land back, first from Oeife (Kimberly King) and later from the surviving daughter Rosemary (Emily Chisholm).
Of course, nothing is that simple, being an Irish play, and there is a cascade of family secrets, lost loves, snarling arguments, misunderstandings, accidents, and incidents. Passions flicker on and off like erratic rural electrics, and despite modern references (the Chinese Olympics, modern farm machinery, in vitro fertilization), it still feels like we are but three steps from the Potato Famine. There is romance and happy ending, but the path is strewn with thorns, mostly planted by individuals who consider themselves unworthy in the first place.
And the reason it works at all is from the efforts of strong actors. Kimberly King as the hard-as-nails, romantic-at-heart Rosemary (another Irish trope) does most of the heavy lifting. M.J.Seiber has a harder road - he's simultaneously called upon to be sensitive and oafish in turns, committed to the land but harboring his own secret, which may only be comically revealed. He acquits himself, but it feels like he is dragged in multiple directions and while you want him to be happy by the end of the first act, and you similarly want to shake him until he rattles. Sean G. Griffin and Kimberly King are the parents who provide grounding for the entire operation and set up the fireworks in the second act between Rosemary and Anthony. All of them are REP vets, ranging from Glengarry Glen Ross (which sounds like an Irish Play, but isn't), to Pullman Porter Blues to Inspecting Carol. So kudos to a production that puts the Repertory concept to work at the REP.
It is all in all a good performance for an OK play, and pales only because there has been so much good material this season from the REP. The two monstrous LBJplays loom large, and August Wilson stands out in any season he is presented. Yet Lizard Boy was every bit as good as The Piano Lesson, and The Vaudevillians was a tasty opening morsel that allows people to say they saw Jinx Monsoon just when she was hitting the big time. Outside Mullingar follows after these, and Dear Elizabeth after that. The weakest play was The Comparables, and even that would have been merely average in previous seasons. This has been the strongest season in years, and fitting testament to its Creative Direction, Jerry Manning, who passed on this year. Next year has its work cut out for it.