Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Damn Good Time at A Couple of Blaguards
Also see Richard's review of Sex and Mayhem
Frank and Malachy McCourt's Irish comedy has been making the rounds in this country and Canada for years. The comedy made a brief appearance here in 1988 with Frank and Malachy themselves.
For those of you who have never heard of the word "blaguards," it is a term most used on the Emerald Isle. It was first used by Jonathan Swift in 1730 when he described the Dublin laborers who would unload coal from ships. The laborers' faces would be dirty from the coal dust so Swift called them "black guards" (they also guarded the ships from thieves trying to steal the valuable coal). When off duty, the guards would get drunk and become very boisterous, so the name warped into blaguards meaning "dirty drunken bastards." Later, the term was softened to mean "a charming scoundrel." The McCourts' mother always called them "blaguards" as they were growing up in Limerick.
Blaguards' first act consists of the two brothers growing up in Limerick, which was a city of churches and pubs. They lived in abject poverty with little or no plumbing. ("The ground floor of our house was lined with the ooze of neighborhood sewage.") However, the stories they told of growing up are full of wonderful Irish wit. Frank (Jarlath Conroy who played in New York in The Weir, The Iceman Cometh and The Visit) 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 (my mother told me this also). Poor Frank had a problem getting the wafer down until "God finally melted."
Howard Platt (Moon Over Buffalo in New York) plays Malachy and various other roles in this Irish version of Greater Tuna. His portrayal of a malapropism-prone mayor ("I see a few missing faces here tonight") is uproarious, as is the fire and brimstone priest who talks about the torments of Hell . The priest talks about celebrities like the great Ginger Rogers whom he condemns for her dancing. He said that the young people see her dancing with Fred Astaire and they start dancing with each other. As a result of their feet stomping on the floor, dust arises and gets into their nose causing silicosis later. The priest very sternly says that Ginger Rodgers is the cause of this silicosis.
Act two tells of the two brothers coming to America. This section has a completely different tone as they relate their adventures in New York. Frank tells how he discovered sex and James Joyce from a librarian while serving in the U.S. Army in Germany. Malachy tells of all of the jobs he held in New York, from construction worker to babysitter to bartender, actor and radio personality. He tells 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.
One of the best characters in the one hour, 40 minute one intermission play is the Anglo-Irish language itself. The jovial rhythms, inventive audaciousness and lithe clarity are wonderful to the ear. The set by Russell Milligan is simple with large sepia tone photos of Limerick on each side of the stage plus a large old photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge. A table and two chairs have been placed in the center, with a pint of Guinness for each of the lads. In the background is a stone wall, typical of what one would find in Ireland.
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 humor in your soul. A Couple of Blaguards is at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post Street, San Francisco through October 17. For tickets call 415-771-6900, visit any Ticketmaster outlet or log on to ticketmaster.com. For more information check out www.poststreettheatre.com.