The Irish...and How They Got That Way
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
July 18, 2010
I'm a big fan of all things Irish. I love the country, the cuisine, the music, and there's nothing more enticing than a good old Irish brogue, as they say. So why wasn't I thoroughly satisfied with the Irish Rep's production of Frank McCourt's The Irish...and How They Got That Way?
While McCourt, who died July 19 last year, was a wonderful storyteller and author, his script here, which was first produced at the Irish Rep in 1997 with the same director (Charlotte Moore), is little more than a rough outline of Irish history from "the beginning" to the present. Four actors and two actor/musicians recount stories, quotes, anecdotes, and sing and dance in what amounts to more of a musical revue than anything else.
The first act has a number of lengthy sequences, including one about the potato famine, that drive the action to a dead stop until they start singing again. The second act opens with a dandy sequence on George M. Cohan. And the script is full of witticisms that one could imagine McCourt telling, like how to properly "understand" the Irish. "In order to understand the Irish," one actor says, "you have to know the English, and to understand the English, you have to know their cooking."
Of the cast, the clear standouts are Kerry Conte and Gary Troy, who deliver their speeches and songs with more enthusiasm and gusto than their colleagues. Though he has a lovely voice, Ciaran Sheehan broodingly sleepwalks his way through "Danny Boy" and a host of other Irish tunes. And Terry Donnelly just seems bored. The musicians, who also share a part in the action, are Kevin B. Winebold (who doubles as George M. Cohan) and the pony-tailed Patrick Shields on the violin, mandolin, and bodhran.
It is the Cohan sequence, at the top of the second act, complete with tap dancing (choreography by Barry McNabb), that steals the entire production. Moore has blocked the show to play only one side of the theater, and those seated house left have a great view of the performers' backs.
At the end, the actors applaud a picture of McCourt that graces the stage via projections (set, cluttered, and said projections, are designed by Shawn Lewis). McCourt deserves all the applause he gets, even if he's written better pieces than this.