Author Archive for: ‘suzanneangeo’

“A Couple of Blaguards” by Frank & Malachy McCourt, Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

Steven Abbott (left), Tim Kniffin

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photo by Eric Chazankin
 

Sure and It’s a Grand Time You’ll Have

Storytelling is an honored tradition in Ireland dating back to ancient times. A bit of the Ould Sod is on merry display at Cinnabar, and it’s so infectious and transformative that it just might make you Irish – or at least make you wish you were.

“A Couple of Blaguards” unfolds in a series of zesty anecdotes set to music, laced with sharp wit and occasional naughty bits. It’s based on writings by Frank McCourt that later on inspired him to write his vivid autobiography “Angela’s Ashes”, about growing up in Ireland amid wretched poverty. He co-wrote “Blaguards” with his brother Malachy McCourt, an author in his own right.

Born in Brooklyn at the dawn of the Great Depression, as toddlers Frank and Malachy moved with the rest of the McCourt family to Ireland, land of their parents’ birth. They suffered terrible hardships there, but while growing up never lost their courage, or their sense of humor. The brothers eventually moved back to America, Frank becoming a respected high school teacher, and Malachy, a popular Broadway actor and saloonkeeper. In the 1980s they teamed up to write “Blaguards”, originally performed with the brothers playing themselves. It was so popular that professional theatre companies began staging it. It has been performed to rousing applause all over the world ever since, for over 20 years. Frank went on to craft his phenomenal 1996 best-seller “Angela’s Ashes” based in part on this material. Two years later, Malachy wrote a memoir of his own, “A Monk Swimming”.

The set by David Lear takes the form of a rustic, cozy pub complete with dartboard and a most inviting fireplace. The effect is enhanced by the cabaret-style seating for the audience used by Cinnabar this time of year. The local Irish-Celtic folk ensemble Youkali is on hand, joined by Cinnabar Music Director Jim Peterson, supplying the evening with lively, whimsical Irish tunes that weave in and out between the vignettes.

Director Sheri Lee Miller’s choice of a pub setting is fitting, yet ironic; a pub represents the prime source of the McCourt family’s misery. Frank and Malachy’s alcoholic father spent most of his paltry income in pubs with little to spare to feed, clothe or shelter his family. In Miller’s skillful hands, the pub becomes a focal point of release, an ideal setting for witty narratives and darkly humorous recollections.

Miller’s staging is an ingenious collaboration with her talented actors, Steven Abbott (Frank) and Tim Kniffin (Malachy), who tell their tales with song and spoken word. Besides the two main roles, the script requires Abbott and Kniffin to perform a dizzying multitude of characters from the brothers’ past. There’s a grandmother in there, along with various priestly tormentors, gossipy young ladies and dodgy childhood companions, all quickly assumed with the nimble flick of a scarf, facial expression or attitude. It’s a triumph of imagination and magic: taking what exists only in the minds of the actors, and bringing it onto the stage.  Each actor in turn is a pure delight. Kniffin takes the stage with assurance, exuding a boyish yet devilish charm as Malachy, playing the role with an arch goofiness.  Abbott has Frank nailed: brashness mixed with sensitivity, a scholarly yet vulgar fellow whose ambition leads him to accomplishment and acceptance.

“Blaguards” denies its harsh and bitter origins: A sweet spirit permeates the show, teamed with a ribald gaiety that’s irresistible. Memories take on a warm and hazy glow, like that of the fireplace, softening the years of grinding poverty and desperation. One can only conclude that while the McCourt boys have not forgotten, they have certainly forgiven, finding joy and strength in what remains.

 

When: Now through January 27, 2013

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays – January 12, 18, 19 & 26

2 p.m. Sundays – January 13, 20 & 27

Tickets: $25 to $35

Location: Cinnabar Theater

3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA
Phone: 707-763-8920

Website: www.cinnabartheater.org

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