01/26/2014 11:48 am ET Updated Mar 28, 2014

An Irish Moonstruck: Outside Mullingar with Debra Messing and Brian F. O'Byrne

It would be impossible to imagine two more wrong-headed individuals than Anthony Reilly and Rosemary Muldoon, the next-door neighbors in John Patrick Shanley's new play, Outside Mullingar. The idea that they would live side by side for their entire lives and not realize their desires for one another strains the imagination. But if the playwright of Doubt is looking for a fresh window into the human heart, or a way to express his inner Irishman, this old school play at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, produced by the Manhattan Theater Club and directed by Doug Hughes, is surprisingly satisfying, especially in our age of social media with its laconic exclamations.

One reason is the dialogue so filled with Irish-isms, in language and worldview: the dead still speak, claiming their due through generations, and traditions, a quaint thought, as are some others expressed by these characters. Debra Messing is especially fine in this role, a deglamorized redhead farmwoman, stubbornly carrying a decades old grudge. Brian F. O'Byrne, an experienced interpreter of Shanley's roles having performed as the priest in Doubt, is excellent as a man in stunted emotional development. Their elders, Peter Maloney and Dearbhla Molloy, round out this cast nicely, foisting their prejudices and providing the backstory on the real estate.

Though hardly wooing her, Anthony says something remarkable to Rosemary, as the two finally come together. Without giving the end away, here is a haiku from Jack Kerouac, appropriate to the occasion: "Bee, why are you looking at me? I am not a flower."

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