Milwaukee Irish Arts returns to the theatre tent at Milwaukee Irish Fest this year with a few more offerings. Of particular note is a two-man comedy show written by noted Irish-Americans Frank and Malachi McCourt. The autobiographical comedy show involves the memories of a couple of guys who grew-up in Limerick, Ireland during the Great Depression. Milwaukee Irish Arts brings the show to a cozily shady tent amidst the lighthearted, boisterous celebration of Irish Fest courtesy of a couple of seasoned local actors: Brian Faracy and Dylan Bolin. In addition to playing the two brothers, Faracy and Bolin play a number of characters, donning and discarding various bits of costuming in a breezy, little poetic comedy that occasionally dwells in some pretty deep moments of drama.
Faracy plays the younger of the two brothers who were born only a little over a year apart. (They’re essentially the same age.) Faracy holds some of the more serious end of the dramatic moments . . . rendering them with soulful depth. For the most part, though, he’s there as some of the comically overarching authority that the boys had to contend with growing-up. He’s a rather severe priest and a very domineering grandmother. His comedy is at its best in subtle moments, though. At one point, young Frank has a rather unfortunate experience with his first communion and is carted off to a Jesuit priest’s confessional to find out what can be done about it. Faracy is charmingly nuanced for a few seconds as the highly-educated priest who is forced to put up with the burden of being an authority. An interesting contrast to this has Faracy (who is a very respectable Financial Advisor with 25 years of experience in his day job) as a comically cheerful life insurance salesman in an era when not being insured meant not having the money to get buried on consecrated ground and hence...unable to make it into heaven. Very darkly humorous stuff.
Towering Dylan Bolin plays young Frank and a variety of other roles. Bolin has great comic instincts that play to the more openly funny end of a script with some rather cleverly poetic humor. Bolin can be a very physically imposing presence onstage. It’s fascinating to see this big, imposing figure onstage in the service of a character growing-up poor in a small town during the Great Depression. He’s sheepishly lost in a bewildering maze the mixes childhood with poverty in a society that’s struggling to scrape its way into the middle of the 20th century. There’s genuine charm in Bolin’s time onstage...even when he’s playing a clueless politician who can’t seem to get logic to connect with much of what he’s saying . . . it’s harrowingly difficult to get that to come across comedically in the current US political climate, but Bolin makes it fun.
Bolin and Faracy work well together. It may be light comedy, but it’s very, very difficult to bring the material together onstage successfully without maintaining an earnest connection between the actors. They’re playing brothers in a two-man show written by those brothers. Director James J. Gallagher has doubtlessly helped to foster a genuine professional connection between the two actors that serves as a really good foundation for the dizzying spin of characters rushing through memories of a childhood neither of them really shared. That genuine energy onstage animates a poetic comedy that is quite lyrical in places. If you get a chance, hang out with a couple of Blaguards in a place somewhere between comedy, drama, song and memory. It’s a nice spot to be found in amidst all the song, dance and celebration of the rest of the fest.
A Couple of Blaguards runs in rotation with a couple of other Milwaukee Irish Arts shows in the Theatre Pavilion at Irish Fest this year. There are two more performances: Noon today and 4:30 pm on Sunday.
Included in the mix are Nate Press and Becky Cofta in The Good Father...a sweet romantic drama about a couple of people who meet at a New Year’s Eve party...kind of a fun two-person show with two great actors. I’d seen it staged at the Irish Cultural Heritage Center in the past...amazing show. For a complete listing of dates and times for these shows and more, visit the Theatre Pavilion schedule for this year’s Irish Fest.