Sure, the Irish have the gift of the gab. And that specific gift is much in evidence in A Couple of Blaguards, the two-man show written by the McCourt brothers—Frank and Malachy—starring Howard Platt (Malachy) and Jarlath Conroy (Frank), the first show in the Long Wharf Summer Series. The McCourts, a “couple of blaguards” (or ne’er-do-wells), have a mostly amusing, occasionally poignant, and always lively tale to tell—or rather many tales to tell—and the show is a feast of entertaining storytelling of the memoir variety. Both McCourts, who began in poverty on “the Lane” in Limerick, Ireland, wound up as known names, Frank for his prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes (the Pulitzer, among others) and Malachy as a radio and television entertainer, actor in films, and memoirist in his own right. A Couple of Blaguards evolved out of reminscences with which the brothers would amuse friends and relations and retains a very intimate, almost impromptu feel.
Both Platt and Conroy have the look of their respective parts—Platt, the more robust one, Conroy, the leaner—and enter into the range of mimicked persons the brothers put before us with gusto and life-of-the-party verve. Both at times throw shaws about their heads and become at once gossiping local women, or Platt will don a collar and regale the boys—with Conroy uneasy in his seat—about hell and temptation. And both eventually have a time in the States what with doors shut in their faces, trying to “stick with their own,” and get shut of their own.
The first half of the show, regaling us with the rigors of being raised in the Holy Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, while facing grinding poverty with sly wit and a keen joy in social skills, moves more quickly and, if you ever spent time around persons clad in habits or surplices, will jab you with hilarious recognition. If nothing else, the McCourts' ability to give us quick sketches of familiar types and Platt and Conroy’s ability to bring them to life—like the singing Insurance Man—does the job of making Limerick imaginatively real to us as the McCourts lived it and loved it and suffered it and left it and mocked it.
In Part Two, set in the States where they eventually get aboard the gravy train to glory, the odd jobs and bum’s rushes they knock about in, like all good picaresque, could be extended indefinitely. But one of the gifts of these truly gifted gabbers is to to know when to bring it all home to leave us no worse than they found us, and the show ends with recollections of their mother that are not only funny but are touched by the fond regard for where they came from that is one of the strengths of the script.
A Couple of Blaguards is a couple hours of good cheer, with maybe a mild tear, and songs and spirits that would be welcome to rouse any dozing pub. It’s entertaining tale-telling by a couple of warmly irreverent raconteurs. Platt and Conroy make the show their own and keep the crowd in the palm of their collective hand. And that’s no blarney.
A Couple of Blaguards Written by Frank McCourt and Malachy McCourt With Howard Platt and Jarlath Conroy Produced by Steve McGraw
Long Wharf Theatre Stage II May 21-June 2, 2013