BWW Review: Satisfying Story Telling in MINDING FRANKIE at Irish Classical Theatre
Engaging story telling is an ancient art and being able to retell someone else's story can be a challenge-- where to put emphases, inflections and pauses, what to include and what to embellish, and how to bring characters to life. Playwright Shay Linehan has adapted Irish author Maeve Binchy's novel MINDING FRANKIE with thoughtful creativity and Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre Company is presenting a charmingly sensitive production at it's Andrews Theatre.
Linehan is the Playwright in Residence at ICTC and here his success lies in the creative nature in which he chooses to tell a story that encompasses dozens of characters all being played by a single man and woman. MINDING FRANKIE tells of the consequences of a brief not-so-romantic interlude by a single man named Noel, a working class Irishman who is also a mostly down on his luck alcoholic. His personal life is not much to speak of and things get complicated when he receives a phone call from a social worker Moira asking him to urgently come visit a dying past fling in the hospital. Told that he is the father of a soon to be born baby girl named Frankie, he must decide what to do with the child, as the mother will most certainly die of cancer imminently.
This two act, two person play requires and is given caring and thoughtful direction by Chris Kelly. With a simple setting of life sized children's alphabet blocks and toys chests (designed by Paul Bostaph), Kelly creatively rearranges the blocks and chests in a myriad of configurations to deal with the numerous shorts scenes that make up the play. He expertly uses the playing area to suggest multiple locales and guides each actor through changes in voice, posture and costumes to inhabit each character with clarity. His stage direction is fluid and essentially choreographed so as the literally map out walking patterns among the boxes so each character enters the next scene with precision.
Christian Brandjes as Noel shines in embodying his inner and outer turmoil of accepting to raise Frankie, while being totally unequipped for such a task. His attempts to convince Social Worker Moira (played by Kristen Tripp Kelley) that he is up to the challenges are constantly dashed. Moira herself has a stake in raising the child. Her plan includes having her friends be the foster parents and she will become the godmother to Frankie.
Ms. Kelley finds many layers in her nuanced portrayal of the lonely and overworked Moira, herself without any prospects of marriage or having a child. With her red hair and excellent Irish accent, Kelley is perfectly cast and subtly shows the desperation in trying to do the right thing for the child while trying to fill a void in her own personal life. Whether she takes on the role of the dying mother, burly bar tender or aging neighbor, her acting choices are clear and well thought. Brandjes and Kelley are at their best in confrontation scenes, and there are many, as Moira trails Noel wherever he goes and frequently drops in at his apartment in attempts to find him unfit.
Mr. Brandjes is delightful in his scenes with the newborn Frankie, pantomiming with conviction and often hilarity. His exasperation and humor offer a nice balance to the uptight nature of Ms. Kelley's role. After Frankie is in his care he is challenged with the notion that he may not be her father and paternity testing comes in to play, further questioning Frankie's placement.
MINDING FRANKIE at first does not cry out for a stage production. The story is straight forward and the twist and turns are few, often playing out more like an episodic television script. Luckily the artistic merits of all involved in this production elevate the material to a much higher ground and by the play's conclusion that effective art of great story telling draws the audience in. The ending is as satisfyingly placid as reading the last paragraph of a newly found short story.
MINDING FRANKIE runs through November 26, 2017 at the Irish Classical Theatre Company's Andrews Theatre. Contact irishclassical.com for more information