The thing about poverty is, you can’t take it too seriously, or that’ll be the end of you.
Maybe that’s true, and maybe ’tisn’t, but it is surely the philosophy of the brothers McCourt – Frank (the famous author of “Angela’s Ashes”) and Malachy, a noted actor and popular pub owner in New York City.
These two happily called their collaborative comic 1980s cabaret “A Couple of Blaguards,” a title bestowed upon the boys by an angry grandmother, and for years they performed the show themselves.
Fortunately, with Frank now gone for three years, the play lives on with other actors in regional theaters, including Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company, where it can be found through Nov. 18. It’s a two-man show inhabited by the brothers, of course, but also with priests, parents, sharp-tongued gossips and all other manner of Irish eccentrics. (Although in McCourt’s version of Ireland, let’s dare say, they are more than normal.)
Christian Brandjes plays the lively Malachy, along with the bulk of the “supporting cast.” Malachy was, after all, the actor in the family. Chris Kelly is the slightly more grounded school teacher Frank, constrained by his upbringing but inspired by it, too. Their tale-telling is roughly chronological, starting in the place they grew up, Limerick, Ireland (“The favorite word of the Limerick man : ‘was.’ ”)
Their family was beyond poor, partly because of the early exit of their father, as in “What’s an Irish divorce, Frank?” “He disappeared.” Ba-dum-dum.
Brandjes and Kelly know their lines and their stage well, using the space to energize the dialogue and having a comfortable, winking rapport that makes them believable if not as brothers as least as close Irish cousins: “What did he die of?” one asks, as a country woman hearing of a wake. “Oh, it was nothing serious,” the other replies, also draped with a shawl.
Though not grim in any “Angela’s Ashes” way, there are brief tragic segments – “People were always dying in the lane” – particularly the loss of three of their siblings (a baby and young twins), but those losses pass quickly in the blur of boys trying to be boys, running to play soccer with their friends and trying to see the church-denounced Tarzan movies on Saturdays.
It’s all very Irish and very Catholic, and most of the jokes are on them, but Protestants, particularly Presbyterians, get their small share, and you need not be any of the above to know how to respond when you hear the toll of the “Jesuit bell.” (You’ll laugh.)
Director Gordon McCall makes full use of his actors’ gifts for physical comedy and song. Both men’s voices are beautifully suited for Irish music and those interludes are lovely to listen to. In the audience, it was also clear that some of the sketches were more polished than others – some good, some even better, some wonderful – and the best assumption is that the show will age well over its three-week run.