Well, it's a real Irish evening at Ford's Theatre with "A Couple of Blaguards," i.e., Frank and Malachy McCourt, the former played by Mickey Kelly and the latter by himself alone. That is to say, there's lots of good talk, a bit of song, some sentimentality, some acerbity and an unholy amount of charm.
The evening is in two parts--the first being the McCourt brothers' memories of their penurious Limerick childhood, the second an account of their experiences as young men who immigrated to New York in the 1950s. The second half is more interesting because, as presented here, it's more gritty. The brothers' experience of life in America was not one of unrestrained joy.
Even speaking English and arriving on these shores well over a century after the great wave of Irish, decades after the last "No Irish Need Apply" sign disappeared, the McCourts run into discrimination and struggle. (Admittedly, neither claims to have been an ideal employee, what with drink and women constantly taking precedence over punching the time clock.) But they endure; anything is better than returning to the Old Sod. Frank is particularly eloquent: "I want to be assimilated! I want straight white teeth! I want a nickname like 'Chuck!' "
Perhaps cognizant of the backlash against Frank's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, "Angela's Ashes," the boys make light of their unhappy childhood. "Miserable suffering we had," sighs Malachy. Frank nods in confirmation: "Classic, I'd say." They tell the usual Irish boyhood stories. There's the priest with the fiendishly elaborate descriptions of Hell (familiar from Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"). Ginger Rogers is condemned as "an occasion of sin." The grandmother (Malachy, shawl on head) is a grim old black-clad witch who panics when young Frank throws up his First Communion host and she has Jesus, in the form of the partially digested consecrated wafer, lying in her back yard: Should she wash Him away with regular or holy water?
This last bit sounds just too good to be true, as do several of the other events related. The actors recount improbable details with an admirably innocent deadpan. Surely some scholar will soon discover that the American "tall tale" is an Irish invention that did not, in fact, exist before the Great Immigration or, if it did, was a poor thing compared with its later glory. As Frank tells us, "America, I discovered, was mostly an Irish venture."
Both Malachy McCourt and Kelly were reared in Ireland, but they've been in America, and have been actors, for many years. Consequently, each has something of the Professional Irishman about him--there's much in this evening that's entertaining, but nothing that's unexpected. A glint in the actors' eyes indicates that they know this, that they clown with irony, even a tinge of bitterness, in the shadow of the infamous stage Irishman, that drunken, foolish, funny Paddy of yore.
A Couple of Blaguards, by Frank and Malachy McCourt. Directed by Howard Platt. Set, Troy Hourie; lights, Marianne Meadows; costumes, Gloria Parker. At Ford's Theatre through Oct. 31. Call ProTix at 800-955-5566.
CAPTION: Mickey Kelly, left, and Malachy McCourt recount the genial adventures of McCourt and his brother Frank in "A Couple of Blaguards," at Ford's Theatre.