ALBANY, N.Y. — Love is not for the feint of heart in John Patrick Shanley's plays. His characters take no half measures in their pursuits or expressions of love and yearning. There's a lot of blood. sweat, tears and angst; risk, albeit risk worth taking. The obstacles to love's fulfillment more often than not stem from within Shanley's characters, rather than from without.
Case in point, an Irish farmer named Anthony Reilly in Shanley's muddled new play, "Outside Mullingar," which is being given an emotionally cumbersome and cluttered production at Capital Repertory Theatre.
When it comes to love, Anthony is his own worst enemy. Nor is he exactly his own best ally when it comes to tending the family farm, which adjoins the neighboring farm of Aoife Muldoon and her feisty, hardscrabble daughter, Rosemary.
Rosemary is in a clear undisputed line to inherit the land when her mother passes but Anthony's father is reluctant to leave his farm to Anthony, who is ambivalent, at best, about the property. At one moment, Anthony will talk about his bond to the land; the voices he hears that tie him to the earth. At another moment, he is ready to quit, leave a family property he says he hates. For all his protestations, Anthony does not react well when his father suggests he's planning to sell the farm to a nephew in America. The only problem is a 40-meter strip of land, a right-of-way across Tony's driveway that blocks direct access to the road that runs in front of the farm; a strip of land Rosemary owns outright and which she is determined to hold on to come hell or high water.
When it comes to love, Anthony — played by David Kenner with a plaintive whine — is as much afraid of his own feelings as he might be of his own shadow and not without reason. He's already been hurt once by love, rejected outright by a woman named Fiona. And as the play moves on, laboriously, if anything becomes clear at all it is that Anthony is having a difficult time wrestling with his feelings for Rosemary, whose own feelings for Anthony are far more clearly shaped.
"Outside Mullingar" feels like two separate plays — one about family ties, bonds, boundaries and father-son reconciliation; the other, a far more passionate and engaging play about acknowledging one's feelings of love and acting upon those feelings, without fear or restraint.
In the play's talky, emotionally static first act, Tony (Kenneth Kimmins) spends his time ranting over his fortysomething son's shortcomings and what to do with the farm, while Aoife (Laurie O'Brien) does little more than listen and react and Rosemary (a luminous Kim Stauffer in a deeply resonant, fully embracing performance) does her own goading and challenging.
As he clears the deck for the second act's coming to terms between Rosemary and Anthony, Shanley allows Anthony and Tony to reconcile the unfinished business in their relationship in a late-night scene in the ailing father's bedroom that should carry far more emotional authenticity than it does here.
The second act, which is set one, and then an additional three, years later, settles down to the main event — Rosemary fighting for the love she comes to know, instinctively, that Anthony feels for her but will neither acknowledge nor accept; at least so it seems.
"I've never thought of you without fear," he finally admits.
"Why now fear?" she asks.
"The pain. Of love," he replies.
As Shanley writes him, Anthony is clearly no match for Rosemary. This is a woman on a mission. In a performance by Kenner that is one series of missed opportunities after another, he hardly seems worth Rosemary's effort.
"Life holds its miracles, good erupting from darkness chief among them," Shanley writes in an accompanying essay in the script. It's an intriguing notion. Perhaps some day it will generate a more clear-headed play than this.
What: "Outside Mullingar" by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
With: David Kenner, Kenneth Kimmins, Laurie O'Brien, Kim Stauffer
Who: Capital Repertory Theatre
Where: 111 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y.
When: Through Oct. 16. Evenings — Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30; Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Saturday at 2; Sunday at 3; added matinee Oct. 5 at 2
Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes (including one intermission)
How: 518-445-7469; capitalrep.org