SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 17, 2013

A Couple of Blaguards

Larcom Theatre hosts light-hearted production by McCourt brothers

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Jarlath Conroy has appeared in some grim roles lately.

He was an undertaker in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of “True Grit,” and played the gravedigger to Paul Giamatti’s Hamlet at the Yale Repertory Theatre this spring. He was also a tombstone carver in a short film based on a story by W.F. Harvey.

“I’m not sure what the universe is trying to tell me,” he said.

But Conroy will reverse this somber trend when he appears in the Irish comedy “A Couple of Blaguards” tomorrow night at the Larcom Theatre in Beverly, in a production that will run through Sunday, Oct. 27.

The show features reminiscences of Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angela’s Ashes,” and his brother Malachy, an actor who also wrote a best-selling memoir.

“It’s a light-hearted piece,” said Malachy McCourt. “I think people do need that. At the very least, people need a chuckle, if not a good laugh.”

Malachy and Frank — who died in 2009 — were born in Brooklyn but were raised in Limerick, Ireland, from an early age. When they were older, they both moved back to New York, where Frank taught school for decades and Malachy worked at manual labor before getting his break on stage.

“A Couple of Blaguards” was originally staged in 1980, in a 100-seat theater in New York, where the two brothers appeared as themselves.

“It was all improvisation,” McCourt said. “We did it a number of times before we actually wrote it down.”

They started to develop the material while “fooling around” one Sunday afternoon in somebody’s living room after dinner, McCourt said.

“Frank and I started off telling yarns about growing up in Limerick and the loony people there,” he said. “The crazy clergy and schoolmasters, and the women who were like matadors with their shawls, shouting at each other in whatever dispute they might be having about somebody insulting somebody about something.”

A blaguard, Malachy once told an interviewer, is “a charming, rowdy rogue.” The first act of “A Couple of Blaguards” is set in Limerick, and the second in New York.

The production notes call for a table, two chairs, some photographic backdrops, and two pints of Guinness “with a creamy head.”

“Frank wrote the first act and a half, and Malachy wrote the second half of Act 2,” said Howard Platt, who plays Malachy in the current production.

Platt, a veteran actor of films and sitcoms — including “Sanford and Son” and “The Bob Newhart Show” — has also produced the show several times.

“The way it weaves together, it’s kind of ingenious really,” he said. “It falls together in a very natural way. What Frank does, in the first act, he kind of introduces the various characters played by me.”

“The mayor of Limerick is involved, and that leads into First Communion,” Conroy said. “Then there’s a scene with the schoolteacher, learning the catechism. We present some of the women that they encountered as kids, in situations like a funeral, for example, how they behaved in a funeral. They have a lot of fun with religion in Limerick.”

Platt and Conroy first appeared together in this production of “Blaguards” in 1999.

“The only difficulty we have with this show is sometimes Jarlath isn’t available,” Platt said. “He’s very cued in to the humor in these lines. ‘Say it, don’t play it.’ It’s not required. Jarlath brings great reality to what he does.”

Conroy, who was born in Galway, Ireland, and has appeared in many Broadway productions, thinks “A Couple of Blaguards” is unique.

“There aren’t too many brothers that sat down and wrote a piece for themselves,” he said. “It moves through what they have encountered, and what they represent there is very accurate.”

The grinding poverty that the McCourts experienced as children gives an edge to the play’s humor, but without overwhelming it, Conroy said.

“We can see the severity of it in some strange way, without it being rubbed in our faces,” he said. “Which is of course a more significant way of getting it to us.”

Malachy McCourt, who appeared in 30 movies with actors that include Sean Connery and Brad Pitt, thinks Platt and Conroy are well suited to play himself and Frank.

“They both have a great sense of humor, and they have comedic talents as well,” he said. “They deliver funny lines without appearing to.”

McCourt feels Platt and Conroy take the material that he created with his brother to another level.

“We actually had memories of seeing the things we talked about, and the people,” he said. “They’re acting as if they had seen them, and they bring imagination to it, which sometimes makes it funnier than actually seeing it.

“An untrammeled imagination is kind of crazy anyway. They do a great job.”

If you go What: "A Couple of Blaguards" by Frank and Malachy McCourt When: Friday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 19, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 24, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 26, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 20 and 27, 2 p.m. Where: Larcom Theatre, 13 Wallis St., Beverly. Tickets: $39 Information: 617-531-1257 or www.larcomtheatre.com