McCourt, of course, is best known for writing “Angela’s Ashes,” the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir about his hardscrabble childhood in Ireland. But his first professional writing success was an autobiographical two-man play called A Couple of Blaguards that he and his actor brother Malachy wrote two decades before the book came out and performed around the country for years.
Spinning yarns about the Irish is something of a McCourt family business. Malachy and another brother Alphie have written memoirs of their own. A nephew made a documentary about the clan. All the tales they tell are simultaneously angry and defensive about the treatment of the Irish over the years and proud and unabashedly sentimental about the accomplishments of their kinsmen.
The Irish…and How They Got That Way falls right in that McCourt tradition. A six-member cast that includes a pianist and string player whips through some three dozen classic Irish songs from “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra” to “Danny Boy” with stops along the way for “No Irish Need Apply,” “The Ghost of Molly McGuire” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Charlotte Moore, the co-founder of the Irish Rep, doesn’t seem to have done much updating of her original, straightforward (in all senses of the word) direction (a review from the time complained that the audience sitting on one side of the stage was ignored and it still is).
Moore and designer Jan Hartley have added some video projections but they prove to be only partly successful (at one point a painting of Thomas Jefferson signing the Declaration of Independence flashes on screen while the cast talks about the heyday of Tammany Hall).
Still the cast members are sincere and hardworking, particularly Gary Troy, who is equally adept at singing, dancing, crafting distinctive characters out of the smallest bits of dialog and even playing the spoons. And it would be hard to find a more dulcet Irish tenor than Ciarán Sheehan, reprising his role from the original production. All in all, I think Frank McCourt—and his legions of fans—would find this revival a fitting tribute to his memory.