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MINDING FRANKIE is a feel-good, heartwarming, laugh through the tears holiday treat at Irish Classical

THE BASICS: MINDING FRANKIE, a play by Shay Linehan [say LIN-uh-han] adapted from the novel by Maeve Binchy, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, directed by Chris Kelly, a “two-hander” starring Kristen Tripp Kelley and Christian Brandjes in a variety of roles, runs through November 26, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 and Sundays at 2 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street (853-ICTC). Full service bar in the “Chris O’Neill lounge”www.irishclassicaltheatre.com Runtime: a touch over two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Noel Lynch is a Dublin drunk barely holding on to his job as a clerk in a building materials warehouse when he gets a call to go to the hospital to see Stella, a woman he spent a few days with at an outdoor music festival. Puzzled, he shows up, and it turns out she has cancer, she’s dying, and she’s pregnant, and he’s the father. She has chosen him to take care of (“mind”) the soon-to-be-born daughter “Frankie.” At first, reluctantly, but then fiercely, he agrees. Meanwhile, the embittered spinster social worker, Moira Tierney, wants Frankie to be adopted by responsible friends of hers who will then make Moira Frankie’s godmother.  Complications ensue in this “laugh through the tears” Irish comedy.

Kristen Tripp Kelley – Photo by Gene Witkowski

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Right from the start this play is a winner. Now, just as it takes a village, or at least a Dublin street, to raise a child, it takes as many to produce a show, so singling anyone out is not to diminish any other element. Having said that, Kristen Tripp Kelley, who always delivers a professional performance, is on a whole other level here. Seamlessly moving from portrayals of the dying Stella to the uptight Moira, and others in-between as needed (including wonderful moments as Noel’s dad, and later as Malachi, Noel’s AA sponsor) Kelley’s acting chops get a workout and she’s up for it. Oh yes; yes she is.

A lot of ICTC’s shows are a bit gritty, the people are mean and do not seek redemption, and the laughs and tears are hard won, often leaving me wondering: “Could we please just have a nice play that tugs at the heartstrings and lets us walk out of the theater feeling good about the world?” Well, I got my wish. That play is called MINDING FRANKIE.

Christian Brandjes plays the drunk, Noel, and many other characters, too, so ably that having only two actors was enough for me.

Christian Brandjes – Photo by Gene Witkowski

Christian Brandjes plays the drunk, Noel, and many other characters, too, so ably that having only two actors was enough for me.  But what about that village that it takes to put on a play? Well, something special here are the various Irish accents, both Galway and Dublin, with several micro-regional accents, that define each of the characters, and that’s thanks to a lot of hard work with Dialect Coach Vincent O’Neill. Set Designer Paul Bostaph once again cleverly provides the actors with a playing field, this time made up of larger than life, about 18” to a side children’s building blocks, complete with alphabet letters, animals, etc. Many have flip tops which provide on-stage storage of props. Very clever, Mr. Bostaph. Very clever. The tale is enhanced by wonderful sound effects and entr’acte music provided by Tom Makar. And Director Chris Kelly then uses the set, the actors, the accents, the music, and the props, to tell a cohesive story.

As we head into the holiday season, perhaps you’re starting to feel rushed and “too busy” to turn off your cell phone and treat yourself to a play, but you’ll be glad you went. And, if you have friends or family coming to town over the Thanksgiving holiday, instead of sitting around eating leftovers, why not show off one of Buffalo’s premier cultural attractions, the Irish Classical Theatre? They’ll be impressed, and you’ll feel great.

Up next at the Irish Classical: W. Somerset Maugham’s THE CONSTANT WIFE, directed by David Oliver, starring Kate LoConti as Constance Middleton and Eric Rawski as her errant spouse, along with Kristen Tripp Kelley, Josephine Hogan, and others, running from January 19 through February 11, 2018.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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