It’s been three and a half years since Tony Reilly has presented a play with his theater company, the American Irish Repertory Ensemble.
Much has changed since then, most obviously the loss of his wife and creative partner, Susan, who died in a tragic automobile accident in Massachusetts that also severed one of Reilly’s legs.
He’s done shows since then – indeed, he’s been through one of the busiest stretches of his creative life – but the production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar,” opening Thursday, is the first full production from AIRE since just before the accident on Dec. 23, 2014.
A romantic comedy, in which Reilly gets to play a character named Tony Reilly, “Outside Mullingar” is on stage through April 22 at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company. Dan Burson directs.
Since AIRE last presented a show, the Portland theater scene has grown with the addition of a half-dozen or more companies that present two, three or four shows a year and compete for the same audience.
Reilly hasn’t been on the sidelines. This will be the seventh play he’s acted in since he recovered from his injuries well enough to resume performing. But it’s a very different scene from the perspective of the producer, who has to book the theater, drum up publicity and sell tickets. That’s also Reilly’s role in this show, and it’s something his wife would have handled.
“There are a lot of new theater companies out there,” he said with a nervous laugh that belied AIRE’s experience. “They’re young and they’re good, and they’ve got all the energy in the world. I feel like we’re stepping into a little uncertainty.”
But it’s also true the new companies haven’t touched Irish theater or made it their specialty. AIRE will have every opportunity to retain its niche, and “Outside Mullingar” is the first part of the process.
The play opened on Broadway in 2014 and was nominated for a best play Tony Award. Shanley has won the Triple Crown of writing awards, with a Pulitzer, Tony and Oscar.
He set his play in rural Ireland. It tells the story of two farmers, Anthony and Rosemary, played by Joe Bearor and Janice Gardner, who live side by side. One sees a romantic future; the other hasn’t got a clue.
Reilly stars as Anthony’s father, and Maureen Butler is Aoife Muldoon, Rosemary’s mother. They fret over their kids’ futures, as well as the futures of their farms and families.
Shanley has said he was inspired to write the play from trips to the farm where his father was born. “I listened to the amazing language these folks were speaking as if it were normal conversation, and I knew this was my territory,” he has written.
WHERE: Studio Theater, Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave.
WHEN: Thursday through April 22; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20 and $22
INFO: 799-5327, airetheater.com