Let it Rain, Let it Pour as an Ireland-set Love Story Brings Showers to Little Lake Theatre

To people heard complaining that rain—even just periodically—dampens their spirits and drowns their expectations, a meteorologist might shoot back the question “How would you feel about living through drought conditions for years at a time?” Dry grass. Dying trees. Parched gardens. It’s not pretty.

Wrote John Updike, “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth.” Or, as Emma Thompson observed in the movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” rain brings life.

And, lately, in what might go on record as the wettest summer in local history, it’s bringing some novelty to the stage at Little Lake Theatre, where the rains will come—seriously, they will—when John Patrick Shanley’s play “Outside Mullingar” opens on July 30. At least one scene in this story about everyday quiet life and new-found love in the Irish Midlands (a wet place year in, year out) calls for actor Eric Leslie to get soaked from head to toe while standing in a cloudburst.

You’ll see it happen, real water and all. No lighting tricks, no sound effects mimicking rain for director Jena Oberg, who gambled on creating a downpour where no downpour has ever been before. It’s a first for Little Lake.

Well, “the first time it’s ever rained on stage at Little Lake on purpose,” cracked Jena, referring to past leaky-roof episodes that caused a high enough level of anxiety among the staff and crew. She gives the credit for this Mother Nature-like act to technical director Phil Irvin, who, she explained, devised “a pump system that runs from backstage to the ceiling, to essentially a large PVC shower head. In Act One, a gutter sends the water back to the pump. In Act Two, the water collects and drains off a specially-built platform. It’s pretty neat.”

The magic of live theater, in other words. There’s nothing like it.

Staff member Leigh Ann Frohnapfel, who thought she’d witnessed every manufactured feat imaginable at Little Lake, was impressed when she attended last Sunday night’s rehearsal. “The rain effect is pretty spectacular,” she said. “Kudos to Phil for making it work.”

Along with Eric Leslie, “Outside Mullingar” stars Jennifer Sinatra, Martha Bell and Bill Bennett. The four co-stars portray characters introduced last year in the Broadway production (applauded in The New York Times as “a softhearted comedy freckled with dark reflections on the unsatisfactory nature of life and the thorns of love”) by Brian F. O’Byrne, Debra Messing, Dearbhla Molloy and Peter Maloney.

After reading the play a few months ago, Jena asked former artistic director Sunny Disney Fitchett to make it a part of this season’s lineup, and Sunny didn’t hesitate. What attracted her?

“The surprises” in the plot, in particular at the end, she said. “Also, I love all four of the characters, especially Anthony (Eric Leslie) and Rosemary (Jennifer Sinatra). They are so lost in their love for each other; you just have to root for them.

Plus, she teased, “there is a secret reveal that is deliciously wonderful.”

Loving the play as she does—for, among other things, its offbeat charm, or, as some might say, its quirkiness—Jena spent many hours with her cast developing the characters and discussing the author’s stratagems. There were four more rehearsals for “Outside Mullingar” than are usual in the Little Lake timetable.

“We spent about three days just sitting around the table discussing relationships and intentions,” she said. “John Patrick Shanley gives no information in stage directions, so every moment could be played many different ways. In rehearsals, we played with intentions and we tried all of the options to see what worked. Sometimes a play is so clear where it’s headed. This one isn’t.”

“Outside Mullingar” runs through August 15.

To purchase tickets for the play, phone Little Lake’s box office at 724-745-6300, or take advantage of the opportunity to order tickets online at www.littlelake.org.