You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and we’ll meet at The Keegan Theatre for their production of A Couple of Blaguards. This two man show, Directed by Colin Smith, is a true Irish treat for the evening. Written by the literary greats Frank and Malachy McCourt, the show is strong brew of coffee flavored to the tune of Irish folk with songs and stories from the McCourt brother’s lives. Following their trials and tribulations starting back as young poverty-stricken youths in Limerick, Ireland right on up through their assimilation into American culture over in Brooklyn, New York; the story is charming, funny, and combines the McCourts’s well known sense of humor and wit with poignant moments of heartfelt emotion.
Frank and Malachy McCourt craft a brilliant story – one long overarching event spotted with tunes of the Irish tradition opening, closing and sprinkled throughout to transport you from the stage back home to mother Ireland. It’s a story of their culture, their past, and their values, crafted with love and a little black humor woven in to keep the laughs well grounded. The McCourts’ style is a unique blend of charming anecdotes, jovial Irish jaunts, and a smattering of sorrow to balance out all of the good old fashioned good times.
Director Colin Smith works with company member Timothy Hayes Lynch and Robert Leembruggen to bring these two Irish brothers to life upon the stage. The original production was performed with the playwrights in their title role and after witnessing their story unfold it is noted that Lynch and Leembruggen do these two blokes a good deal of justice.
Their Irish accents are the strong flat sound as described in one of the opening lines once the brothers begin their journey back to Limerick. And their ability to shift the pitch or timbre of their voices subtly to change characters – be it age or gender – enables these two actors to create a dozen or so additional characters between them. This adds levels of fun and entertainment to the yarns they spin for the audience, using simple scarves and hats to more fully address the character change.
Lynch and Leembruggen have a great sense of brotherhood on the stage. They play well off one another in moments of humor, bond tightly together in moments of somber or sullen stories, and build a relationship between them that speaks volumes of the veracity of true brothers. The thing that really adds that extra zing is when they dicker about moving from one story to the next and try to catch the other off-guard reminding the audience that they’re seeing a live show about two brothers. Their ability to read and respond to the audience is superb and helps draw forth the intimate relationship between the two performers and those listening to their tales.
Lynch takes on the role of Frank McCourt who in many of the anecdotes plays the younger version of his character while his partner plays the adult figure, be it priest, school teacher or relative. Lynch hones his talents at making his tall lanky frame appear more childlike by shrinking down into his posture, elevating the pitch of his voice and just letting a general nervousness permeate the way he speaks when responding to his elders. When he narrates the story you hang on his every word as he speaks slowly and with great enthusiasm as if he not only loves the story but truly wants you to share it with the audience. While the play is packed with instances of black humor Lynch works with it most smoothly letting it trickle in where appropriate, giving it a natural feel to the tale he’s weaving.
Leembruggen masters his role as Malachy McCourt and has a rich sweet Irish tenor sound to his voice, leading several of the folk songs that they end up singing together throughout the piece. One of the best character roles he adopts in this performance is that of the god-fearing priest. He bellows and blusters at Lynch and you expect actual fire and brimstone to come belching up from his lips as he rolls on a tirade about how Ginger Rogers is not only sin incarnate but bad for the health. It’s moments like these that make for a particularly captivating performance from Leembruggen.
The pair hits the hilarious highs of the show with impeccable timing and when it is time to slide back into the more solemn moments, like the tale of their little brother Oliver’s funeral, they do so with grace and ease. Their voices sweep a subdued hush over the crowd and bring tears to your eyes as they recall the story as if it were their own brother laid out in a baby white coffin.
Lynch and Leembruggen give flawless performances. They play to their strengths and let the words speak for themselves.
A Couple of Blaguards is a heartwarming tale that will ring a church bell for every member of the audience. Together this team of actors gives you one hell of a night on the stage.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one-15 minute intermission.
A Couple of Blaguards plays through October 14, 2012 at The Keegan Theatre at Church Street Theater – 1742 Church Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 892-0202, or purchase them online.