Actors do fine work with McCourts’ Irish stories

By Chesley Plemmons

Have you ever noticed that the best stories are told by those who figure in them?
Knowing how to laugh at one’s self and one’s kind is the cornerstone of ethnic humor. Which brings me to a dandy evening of Irish humor titled "A Couple of Blaguards," at the Polka Dot Playhouse in Bridgeport through Feb. 3.
Written by two darlin’ Irish writers, Frank and Malachy McCourt, and played by two equally darlin' Irish actors, Jarlath Conroy and Howard Platt.
"Blaguards" is a sentimental but rowdy reminiscence about their early lives in Ireland, their move to New York City and their ultimate successes in the theater, academia and the world of the literati.
It’s an evening of stories, songs and jokes mostly at the expense of the Irish themselves and their shadow self, the Catholic church. Only a good practicing Irish Catholic could get away with some of the fun the McCourts have when they level their salty sense of humor at the village priest and his fellow clerics.
Never having seen either of the McCourts, I can only report that Jarlath Conroy, who plays Frank, and Howard Platt, who plays Malachy and also directs, are as Irish as McSorley’s Tavern, radiating an air as impish as leprechauns and as randy as McGillicutty’s goat.
They make a perfect pair of vaudevillians, assuming characters in the little Irish town where they originated and later the displaced Irishmen they encounter in New York City.
The little vignettes and amusing characters that people this autobiographic journey are filled with both humor and humanity.
With the simple addition of a black shawl, both actors become their own grandmother, their mother, and women of the village — would it be unfair to say the angelic-faced Platt makes the better dame?
One of the best moments comes when Platt, playing a denser-than-stone public official, makes a campaign speech addressing the topic of public lavatories — a single one at the end of the street must make do for all the cottages that line it. He promises "urinals for the men, and arsenals for the women."
Both Gloria Parker’s set — a couple of panels with black and white line drawings suggesting village streets, which frame the stage —and Aaron Meadow’s fluid lighting are production pluses.
For my part, I enjoyed the McCourts’ wickedly funny Irish landscape better than I did the one drawn in the recent Broadway success "Stones in His Pockets," another two-actor exercise.
"Stones" tried to layer comedy with force-fed drama; here the naturalness — perhaps because it’s mostly true — is most appealing. Even if you’re a bit Irish only on March 17, you’re likely to exit feeling a blaguard yourself.


by Joanne Greco Rochman

POLKA DOT PLAYHOUSE: Sure t'will bring a tear to your eye, whether from laughin' or cryin'. How poor were the McCourt brothers (Frank McCourt, author of "Angela's Ashes" and his brother Malachy, author of "A Monk Swimming)? They lived on bread and tea. They wiped their "snotty" noses on their sleeves, and their "arses" hung out through the holes in their trousers

"A Couple of Blaguards" is an unforgettable, thoroughly entertaining journey.

Interjecting an occasional Irish folk song, this production comes alive and tugs at your heartstrings as much as your funny bone.

Malachy: Ah, the Father. He came from north of Ireland, so he did. And he sang, so he did.

Frank: And he got the Irish divorce, so he did.

Malachy: What's the Irish divorce, Frank?

Frank: He disappeared, so he did.

The two actors - Howard Platt as Malachy and Jarlath Conroy as Frank - portray and mimic many male and female acquaintances by raising or lowering their voices and by incorporating simple props like collars and kerchiefs to impersonate priests and old ladies respectively.

The first act concentrates on the poverty the brothers experienced in historic, Catholic, beautiful Limerick. The second act focuses on the brothers seeking their fortunes in gold-lined, filthy rich "Amer-ikay." Filled with blarney, Irish songs, anecdotes and poetry, the second act is every bit as entertaining as the first act. The actors are consistently charming in their various and multiple roles.

You don't have to be Irish to appreciate the familial tales and good humor of this all-around top-notch production.