What exactly is a "blaguard"?
"The word came from the workers on coal ships: they were ‘black guards’" Malachy McCourt explained in his book crammed Upper West Side apartment.
"They would get filthy and drink a lot of Guinness and get into high jinks. They were ruffians of the worst sort. But then the word became an affectionate term for a rogue, a lovable scoundrel."
It’s said in admiration, now," older brother Frank agreed a few evenings later, a smile creeping across his usually deadpan face, "A boyo, a playboy."
The McCourt brothers’ mother - the Angela of "Angela’s Ashes," Frank’s Pulitzer Prize winning memoir about his impoverished youth - used the light epithet often enough on her two eldest sons to prompt them to name a musical-comedy revue about their youth "A Couple of Blaguards."
Audiences might recognize anecdotes from "Angela’s Ashes" and Malachy’s memoir about his adventures in America, the best-selling "A Monk Swimming." But "Blaguards," now in preview at the Triad Theatre, came first.
The show was crafted in the early 1908s. "One year, during the holidays, we were having a rollicking good time remembering things, absolutely collapsing with laughter," Malachy recalled, "and Frank said to me, "We should put this bloody thing on the stage.’"
So Malachy, an established actor in New York, worked his connections and the brothers began performing around town, initially improvising. They later took the show on the road, touring across the country and abroad for more than a decade.
Even after Frank had scripted it, the show continued to evolve.
"Something would trickle in unexpectedly, some ad lib or bit of tomfoolery," he said, explaining how audiences also got into the act. "In Chicago, Irish Catholics were like Elizabethan groundlings. They’d call out, especially in scenes having to do with religion.
It was hilarious. There were times I would crack up on stage and find it hard to go on."
The blaguards brother were also well received in their native Ireland, "except for one man, who took great exception to it," Malachy said. "He said, ‘Two sons of Limerick disgracing the good name of the city, using the stage to dip into verbal pollution.’ We loved it! We put up his comment on the outside of the theater!"
The actors assume the roles of numerous characters in the McCourt brothers’ lives - their crotchety grandmother, a malaprop-spewing politician, the New York University admissions officer who was persuaded by Frank to admit him though he lacked a high school diploma - and incorporate robust songs, as well.

By Sarah Saffian