Category: Archive

Theater Review Portraying Malachy — with charm, charisma

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

PORTRAYING THE IRISH, featuring Malachy McCourt. The Remy Martin Talk Series. At the New Group at Theater at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th St., NYC. Jan. 11.

As one of its audience building activities in its new, somewhat temporary, tenure at the Theater at St. Clement’s Church on Manhattan’s West 46th Street, The New Group is continuing its popular Remy Martin Talk Series, conducted on Monday nights, following a performance of the organization’s current stage production, in this case the American premiere of British playwright Joe Penhall’s "Some Voices."

On Jan. 11, the New Group advertised "a panel discussion," which the energetic and much-admired theater company titled "Portraying the Irish," promising an appearance by actor and raconteur Malachy McCourt as the event’s chief attraction.

As things worked out, McCourt was the entire "panel," apart from Terry Moran, New York University professor of "culture and communications," who introduced him, contributing a comment or two as the session progressed.

McCourt and Moran are two of the founders of the First Friday Club, in addition to which, the latter, a onetime play reader for the Abbey Theatre, produced two documentary films, "Sons of Derry," and the award-winning "McSorley’s New York."

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Roughly a third of the "Some Voices" audience stayed to hear McCourt, most recently the author of an autobiography, "A Monk Swimming."

Writers and actors who participate in this sort of panel generally don’t do much in the way of preparation, and McCourt is, by now, something of an expert at off-the-cuff self-presentation. In addition, he knows the value of rendering an outrageous opinion or two as a way of stirring up a slumbering audience.

Perhaps with this in mind, McCourt delivered himself of the opinion that John Ford’s popular classic, "The Quiet Man," is "one of the worst films ever made.

The comment drew, not unexpectedly, a groan from the house, which the actor countered by claiming that the film celebrates "a wife beater," a not-entirely-accurate but basically harmless view, usually advanced by feminists, of the rough-and-tumble courtship antics carried out by John Ford, playing a visitor from America, in his efforts to win the hand of the beautiful village girl played by Maureen O’Hara.

McCourt added that when Manhattan Theatre Club staged Brian Friel’s "Aristocrats" a few seasons ago, they weren’t much interested in casting authentic Irish performers, the Derry-born Roma Downey being one example he cited.

In fact, the production’s male star was the Irish-born, Ireland-based Niall Buggy, and, among the actresses, the Irish-American Margaret Colin was prominently featured.

But sheer technical accuracy is, perhaps, the preserve of librarians and specialists in statistics, while the stuff of "panels" such as the New Group’s Remy Martin Talk Series is charm and charisma, both of which Malachy McCourt, as always, provided in abundance.

In addition, and somewhat to the surprise of Claudia Catania, the New Group’s energetic executive producer, the performer brought along a copy of a coffee table book, "The Irish in America," to which he and his sibling Frank, author of "Angela’s Ashes," had each contributed something in the way of commentary.

He proceeded to auction off the recently published volume, a modest gesture on McCourt’s part, considering that he might easily have brought along a copy or two of his own book.

"Maybe he just had an extra copy of this one around the house," suggested Catania, by way of explanation. "The Irish in America," for the record very quickly brought $100, on condition that Malachy McCourt would contribute an autograph, which he jovially did.

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