Preview: Frank and Malachy McCourt’s Irish comedy; A Couple of Blaguards, a two-man autobiographical comedy at The South Park Theatre

The dictionary definition of “blaguard” is a villain or scoundrel. As their mother meant it when referring to her Irish twins, Frank and Malachy McCourt were charming and lovable rogues. Precisely the sort of characters you want telling you stories for a couple of hours.

(L-R) Art DeConciliis as Malachy McCourt and Bruce E. Travers as Frank McCourt

A remarkable pair, men with great talent and even more generous spirit despite, or perhaps because of, the squalor and privation of their youth.

Frank and Malachy take us from their 1930s childhood in an impoverished section of Limerick, Ireland, where  they lived in abject poverty with little or no plumbing. In fact, the McCourt home was next to the neighborhood outhouse. (“The ground floor of our house was lined with the ooze of neighborhood sewage.”) The stories they tell of growing up are full of wonderful Irish wit. Frank (Bruce E. Travers) tells of his first communion and how his grandmother told him not to bite into the communion wafer since it was the body of God. Poor Frank had a problem getting the wafer down until “God finally melted.” 

In the 1950s, when the brothers were still toddlers, they moved to New York City. Frank tells how he discovered sex and James Joyce from a librarian while serving in the U.S. Army in Germany. Malachy (Art DeConciliis) tells of his jobs in New York, from construction worker to babysitter to bartender, actor, and radio personality. He speaks of his 70-year-old father coming to New York after obtaining an “Irish divorce” (i.e., the father abandoned the family). The elderly father is found in bed with two elderly neighbor women (“on the pillow were three bald heads and seven miles of gums”). After that incident, the father went back to Ireland. 

(L-R) Art DeConciliis as Malachy McCourt and Bruce E. Travers as Frank McCourt Photos by South Park Theater

Along the way, we get to know Frank and Malachy, but the absolute joy of the play is the other characters created by the two actors as they transition with just the addition of shawl or hat or wig or glasses: their stern mother and even sterner grandmother, priests and teachers and drunks and comely lasses and wise old men, all given rich, rewarding, distinct voices by the McCourts’ vibrant dialogue. 

What’s remarkable about the play is not just the lack of bitterness but the genuine joy the McCourts took in life despite their bleak upbringing and difficult early years. 

This is truly a story of triumph, with Frank spending decades as a beloved and celebrated high school English teacher. At the same time, Malachy was a steadily working actor before either found literary acclaim.

You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate the ironic sense of humor of the brothers, but it helps to have a little Irish spirit in your soul. 

A Couple of Blaguards by Frank McCourt & Malachy McCourt at the South Park Theater | Directed by Sunny Disney Fitchett | Performances August 5-15 | Thursdays & Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm | www.SouthParkTheatre.com or 412-831-8552 for tickets

Categories: Show Previews

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