The Keegan Theatre’s A Couple of Blaguards is an oasis of madcap, guilt-free fun in the midst of a DC fall season that usually emphasizes high-seriousness or more substantial fare. The Keegan’s revival of this oddball piece, penned by the Irish brothers McCourt as a comic entertainment in the early 1990s, became a hit in New York and has popped up here and there throughout the world ever since.
Not so much a play as it is an interconnected web of Irish schtick and humor, Blaguards tells the by now well-known story of brothers Frank and Malachy McCourt who grew up in wretched poverty in their native Limerick, Ireland before heading off to try their luck in New York City, whose streets were surely paved with gold—except in Brooklyn, where they eventually wound up.
Frank McCourt first leaped to fame relatively late in life with his sensational memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” which detailed the bittersweet (mostly bitter) story of his mother and family as they barely subsisted in the Ireland of old, mired in an almost unfathomable poverty and often further oppressed by the Catholic Church they were bludgeoned into revering.
Frank McCourt eventually became an English teacher in New York, where he was joined by his brother Malachy, who knocked about aimlessly in the city before hitting his stride as an actor. It’s another American success story to be sure, but its path was never straight.
Blaguards is essentially a riff on “Angela’s Ashes” and its follow-up companion volume “‘Tis.” But its tone is entirely different. Whereas “Angela’s Ashes” was an almost shockingly frank and somber memoir, Blaguards remembers the McCourts’ troubled past in a more familiar Irish fashion, poking fun at it with that patented, time-honored mix of Irish language, wit, hyperbole, self-deprecating humor, and slashing satire.
Split into two “acts”—one centered in Limerick, the other in New York—Blaguards covers its material anecdotally, in non-linear fashion, treating the McCourts’ background and life-story as a series of interconnected, rapid-fire yarns and one-liners that somehow achieves a happy ending in spite of the poverty and misery that propel it.
A show like Blaguards always depends on the wit and skillful comic timing that drives things forward and builds the laughs. Things launch at a manic pace and keep on going in this Keegan production, which is deftly steered by director Colin Smith. More fortuitous still was the choice of casting Timothy Hayes Lynch and Robert Leembruggen as Frank and Malachy McCourt, respectively. The pair has already developed an easy rapport, key to making this production work. As the actors in Blaguards portray not only the McCourts on stage but also slip into a variety of additional character roles, they need to have a well-honed actors’ toolkit as well, and Lynch and Leembruggen certainly do.
An added plus: both thespians can also sing, particularly Leembruggan,whose sweet but slightly waning Irish tenor propels many of the humorous and poignant tunes that slip in among the stories as the evening progresses.
We caught a performance of Blaguards earlier this week and found it a good deal of fun. The audience loved it and quickly got involved in the infectious musical moments that dot the production.
A Couple of Blaguards
Closes October 14, 012
Church Street Theater
1742 Church Street, NW
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $30 – $35
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tuesday’s performance seemed a bit uneven, however. Given the show’s rapid pacing, lines are often delivered at a wicked clip. Tuesday, both actors muffed those lines on occasion, as if they hadn’t rehearsed quite enough, and the quality of their Irish accents seemed to ebb and flow.
Things deteriorated a bit further in the second half, which seemed less polished than the first, taking on as it did an almost improvisatory air due to those missed lines and entrances.
That said, the McCourts’ own stage interpretation back in the day likely took some improvisatory turns as well, and the show certainly lends itself to improv, given the seeming randomness of the script.
No point in being churlish, though. The audience rolled with the whole thing as most people do when they’re showered with the intense and infectious hilarity of earthy Irish humor.
By the time you read this, Blaguards should be a more polished show, further brightened by two fine comic actors who are genuinely enjoying the fun and the rapport they share on stage. If you’re the type that likes Irish fun and Irish tunes, and if you’re in search of a simple, uncomplicated evening of entertainment, you’ll want to head for the Church Street Theater to visit a green and (sometimes) pleasant land that the Irish Tourist Board once labeled “The Ancient Birthplace of Good Times.”
A Couple of Blaguardsby Frank and Malachy McCourt, directed by Colin Smith, featuring Timothy Hayes Lynch and Robert Leembruggen, set design: Mark A. Rhea, costume design: Emily Riehl-Bedford, Light design: Megan Thrift, Sound design: Tony Angelini, Music direction: David Jourdan, Reviewed by: Terry Ponick