At 'Blaguards,' a good time can be had by all


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001

 ST. PETERSBURG -- When you were a kid, remember sitting behind the sofa or under the kitchen table listening to the grown-ups tell stories, laugh and drink? If you do, be prepared to have your nostalgia muscles worked out by A Couple of Blaguards, the warmly funny play by Frank McCourt and Malachy McCourt, at American Stage through June 3. 

The McCourt brothers are both wonderful writers, as anyone who has read Angela's Ashes (by Frank) and A Monk Swimming (by Malachy) knows, full of life, joy and understanding. Their play is an evening with them, trading stories, songs, jokes and love. 

The show is performed by two fine actors, Howard Platt (as Frank) and Michael T. Judd (Malachy), and the audience is drawn into their world without hesitation, a world where everything is important, from the church to the lavatory. Stories about both resound throughout this play, as do tales of a childhood in grinding poverty in Ireland, a couple of greenhorns in New York City, first lusts and the discovery of a place where the two can thrive. The real Irish brogue (not the Lucky Charms nonsense) is one of the most musical in the world, and just hearing it is a joy. That the stories are so affecting and funny simply increases the pleasure. 

Frank became a teacher (as readers of his books know) and Malachy became an actor with many talk show appearances. (As a child, I remember him on the old Merv Griffin Show.) Their tales of drunken fathers, church-obsessed grandmothers and cynical priests have not a second's sting to them. All are told with affection, love and the "lubrication of small liquids" as another great Irish writer, Walt Kelly, once put it. Watching them tell stories and drink Guinness, it's hard not to think, "A Guinness would go good right about now." 

It is, however, hard to think of A Couple of Blaguards as an actual play. It's more a performance piece, with some of the richest language you'll hear on the stage. Platt and Judd are clearly having a wonderful time together, becoming old Irish women at a wake with the addition of two black scarves, the parish priest with a simple collar and a nymphomaniacal Irish wench with a goofy long wig. They transform American Stage into a living room, and we are the lucky ones invited to the party. 

Platt and Judd (even sounds like a comedy team) go from childhood to modern day, playing and commenting as they go. There is not a second's doubt that they are brothers. If you have uncles who are great storytellers, you'll want to talk with them, maybe buy them a beer after A Couple of Blaguards

These are real lives being presented to us, however exaggerated. It is this reality that makes Blaguards finally such a moving work. The McCourts (with the able help of Platt and Judd) become family, as we all are. If you're Irish, you'll recognize the attitudes, the songs and the Guinness. If you're human, you'll recognize yourself. 

A Couple of Blaguards is a blessing on local stage. Bless yourselves and go.