Thursday, April 24, 2014
By APRIL BOYLE
Feel like St. Patrick's Day came and went too fast? Wish the fun didn't have to end? At the American Irish Repertory Ensemble, it hasn't.
WHAT: “A Couple of Blaguards” by American Irish Repertory Ensemble
WHERE: The Studio Theater, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
DATE REVIEWED: Friday; play runs through April 7
TICKETS: $20 ($18 seniors/students) Wednesday/Thursday $15
CONTACT: 799-5327, www.airetheater.com
"A Couple of Blaguards" is a rollicking memoir, written by Frank and Malachy McCourt. Through song, dance and spirited re-enactment, the brothers chronicled their childhood in Ireland, and their immigration to the United States when they were in their early 20s.
Those familiar with the McCourt name only from Frank's poignant memoir "Angela's Ashes" will be surprised at the frivolity of "A Couple of Blaguards." In the words of Malachy, "If you don't have a good evening, you should have yourself checked to make sure you haven't died during the day."
There's absolutely no doubt that Tony Reilly (as Malachy McCourt) and Paul Haley (as Frank McCourt) have a pulse. The two were a well of energy Friday, reveling in the art of Irish storytelling.
It was a marathon evening of laughs. Reilly and Haley didn't just narrate and play the McCourt brothers. They were all the characters -- both male and female -- in the brothers' lives. And, on top of the madcap character changes, they also sang, danced and entertained the audience, playing a variety of traditional Irish instruments.
In the first act, Reilly and Haley regaled the audience with tales of the brothers' impoverished childhood in Limerick.
Haley was a sight to see as a young Frank, fidgeting in his seat as his parochial school teacher (hilariously played by Reilly) grilled him on the seven deadly sins. His demeanor, mannerisms and facial expressions regressed before the audience's eyes.
Later, Reilly had the audience in stitches as a local politician, vying for votes with such asinine statements as "I, myself, have died for Ireland."
Reilly and Haley took a much-deserved 15-minute break in the nearly two-hour performance before launching into the second half of the story: life in America.
Frank was the first of brothers to immigrate. "America, I discovered," he said, "was pretty much an Irish venture."
The laughs just kept coming, with stories of Frank's adventures in the Army and his recollection of how his brogue got him into college without a high school diploma.
Then it was Malachy's turn to give America a go: "Most people drink to make themselves interesting. I drink to make people as interesting as me."
Interesting, indeed. The audience laughed as Reilly recounted dead-end (at times quite literally) job after dead-end job that Malachy tried his hand at before falling into a career as an actor in theater, television and movies.
He was also one of the first radio talk show hosts in New York City, is credited as starting the first singles bar in America and ran for governor of New York in 2006, at the age of 75.
"A Couple of Blaguards" captures the McCourt brothers' talent for finding the humor in even the most mundane, or unfortunate, circumstances. The memoir is packed with fun stories, sharp wit and entertaining gags.
And Reilly and Haley deliver it all with Irish gusto.
April Boyle is a free-lance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: