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September 27, 1999 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-27

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The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 27, 1999 - IA

'Ashes'

gave birth to McCourt dynasty

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AP PHOTO
Syed Raza, of Herndon, Va., waits in line for the movie "Baadshah."
Xdian films attract
expatriate crowds

'Ibe Washington Post
'Tis a miracle year for the Family McCourt.
Frank McCourt's memoir " 'Tis" was released
Tuesday. It's the sequel to "Angela's Ashes," his heart-
tugging, 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner about growing up
in a poverty-stricken Irish home with a long-suffering
mother and an alcoholic father, which has been a best
seller in both hardcover and paperback.
"A Monk Swimming," a coming-to-America mem-
oir by Frank's kid brother Malachy, has sold briskly
since its June publication. Youngest brother Alphonsus
is trying to sell his own memoir. And Frank and
Malachy's play, "A Couple of Blaguards." opens here
Tuesday.
In a full McCourt press on America, the three broth-
ers are spinning tales of their past. They are in no dan-
ger of living unexamined lives. Like chefs over a well-
cooked turkey, they are slicing, dicing, chopping and
shopping around their histories in person, in print,
onstage and on screen. Conor McCourt, Malachy's son,
this year produced his second documentary on his
father and uncles, and the Hollywood version of
"Angela's Ashes" is to be released in December.
Being a McCourt is a full-time business.
And burden.
"We have both come to the conclusion," says
Malachy of himself and Frank, "that we're so (bleeping)
bored with ourselves."
U..
On a recent morning, Malachy, 68, grabs a bagel and
coffee at Cup'A Cup'A in the Watergate before
rehearsal.
He's a right jolly old elf with his wispy white hair,
bushy white eyebrows and a melodious brogue that
makes swearing sound sweet.
Is he envious of Frank's fame? No, he says, not in the
least. In fact, he's tickled that Frank is now center stage.
After all, didn't Frank toil for 30 years in a New York
high school classroom while Malachy (pronounced
MAL-a-kee) lived the high life - saloon keeper, soap
opera regular, radio talk show host, movie star?
It was Frank's phenomenal success with "Angela's
Ashes" - described in a Washington Post review as
"an instant classic of the genre" - that catapulted the
McCourt name into prominence.
Reviews of " 'Tis" have not been so generous, how-
ever. And "Monk," Malachy's memoir of his young-
adult years in this country, has been hammered. Kirkus
Reviews decried the "curdled tone of self-pity and self-
flagellation." The Post called it "a distressing embar-
rassment."
Malachy says he wrote it simply because a publisher

"offered me a huge sum of money ... in the wake of
Angela's Ashes.'
"Monk" has sold well enough -- 250,000 hardcover
copies in print - to warrant a second volume. He jokes
that he was going to call it "I Read Your Brother's Book,
But ..." Instead, he's calling it "Singing My Him Song."
"I have no idea what that means," says Malachy.
Such disarming honesty is his hallmark. He says he's
not a well-educated man. "I'm very limited. I tend to
stick with what I know, what I understand."
One thing he understands is poverty. On his way to
the Metro stop, a man begs for money. "He's here every
morning," Malachy says, "asking for a dollar."
Malachy, who suffered shame and self-loathing as he
watched his mother panhandle on the streets of
Limerick, walks past the beggar. Giving him a dollar, he
says, won't solve anyone's problems.
"There's no shortage of money or food," he says. "All
it is is distribution"
U..
Onstage at Ford's Theatre for a rousing run-through
of "A Couple of Blaguards," Malachy, who plays him-
self, and the actor playing Frank mix vivid memories
with vaudeville song and dance. The play is equal parts
party and poignancy. #
The idea for "Blaguards" - the Irish pronunciation
of "blackguards" - crystallized around 1980 when
Frank and Malachy, notorious for spinning outrageous
Irish yarns to students and saloon habitues, decided to
take their shtick to the stage. A friend of Malachy's had
a small theater in Manhattan, where they began spend-
ing evenings telling thrice-told tales. "We didn't write
anything down,"he says.
The result was a sort of improvisational autobiogra-
phy - snappy vignettes of growing up Catholic in
Limerick, of a destitute mother, of discovering the won-
ders of the New World. "Sometimes the audience was
gone before we were" he says.
Before their mother, Angela McCourt, died in 1981,
she saw the show. She stood up halfway through,
Malachy remembers, and said: "It didn't happen that
way! It's all a pack of lies!"
The stories in the play, Malachy says, "are elabora-
tions of our lives, not exaggerations."
Over the years, the brothers performed the revue
in Chicago, Pittsburgh and other places. They honed
it to under two hours, and eventually Irish actors
stepped in for one brother or another when neces-
sary. Other theaters wanted to stage it, even without
the McCourts.
Malachy has played himself hundreds and hundreds
of times. On the stark Ford's stage, with two chairs, a
table and two pints of root beer that look like Guinness

stout, the men lock arms and dance and sing Irish songs
and recall sexual conquests. Frank's character tells ol
his first Communion and his regurgitation of the sacred
wafer. Malachy painfully recalls the deaths of three
other McCourt siblings.
"There's terrible shame in poverty" Malachy says. "It
tears at your insides to this day. This play is a defense
against those memories."
Afterward. he sits in his dressing room, looking older
than he did before the rehearsal. Against the wall, the air
conditioner whinges. He takes off his costume - a blue
shirt and khakis. And steps into his street clothes a
blue shirt and khakis.
"The more I do it," says Malachy, "the more reflec-
tive I get." His mind wanders sometimes onstage. This,
he predicts, will be his last run as a blaguard.
And why not? The play has served its purpose. Its
stories and songs are the primal matter from which
"Monk" and "Angela" and " 'Tis" were created.
But after dccades of hard drinking and creative sto-
rytelling and dramatic reshaping of a memory of a
memory of a memory, Malachy says he occasionally
asks himself, "What is the reality?"
U..
" 'A Couple of Blaguards' just skims the surface,"
says Frank, 69, of the work he co-wrote.
"It just doesn't dig in anywhere. It skims along," he
says from his apartment in New York. "There are
moments of pathos, but it hews to the stereotype of the
Irish. And that doesn't satisfy me anymore."
In fact, he's memoired out. He's working on a navel.
"I need space. I need to spread my wings, he says. "I
want to play with the facts, play with the fantasies,
enlarge, enhance and put the character in a situationand
see what happens."
In the prologue to " 'Tis,' Frank writes of dreaming
of America as a child. One by one, his other brothers
claimed to be having the same nocturnal reveries. "I
appealed to my mother," Frank writes, "I told her it was-
n't fair the way the whole family was invading my
dreams.
In a way, his brothers continue to invade his dre ms.
But he won't hear of that.
They have led distinctive lives. "Distinctive, ,not
extraordinary," Malachy says.
Alphie, 58, restores apartments in Manhattan. He
says his agent doesn't want him talking about his mem-
oir until it's sold. "I come from a very talkative fani'ly,"
he says. "I have to fight for space. I take the back seat
and wait for the opportunity"
Michael, 63, who the others say is the best storyteller
in the family, is recovering from a heart attack. He runs
a saloon in San Francisco.

The Washington Post
The last time a movie starring
Shahrukh Khan opened at
Loehmann's Twin Cinemas, the line
stretched across the strip mall and
hundreds of fans couldn't get seats.
.liences packed the suburban the-
ater for weeks.
$o, just to be safe, Monika Khatri
arrved early on a recent Saturday to
se4 the latest film from India's No. 1
stay.
The problem was that everyone
else did, too. Sikh men wearing tur-
bais waited in line behind Sri
Lahkan teenagers in Nike caps.
[ an mothers in saris tried to con-
t restless children as adolescent
Afghan girls traded gossip by the
bo$ office. Indian folk music floated
out of cars searching the jammed lot
foi parking spaces.
"These movies bring you closer to
home, because we are. all so far
awiay," said Khatri, 49, a computer
anelyst from New Delhi, explaining
why the S8-a-ticket, three-hour
H di films are worth the trouble.
" ey're good entertainment, and
they help you keep in touch with the
culture."
Two suburban theaters showing
Hindi films nightly have become
lively gathering places for the
region's growing community of
South Asian immigrants. Their suc-
cess - and the success of theaters
like them in more than 30 other U.S.
c s - can be traced to remarkably
d oted fans who see the Indian film
world as a kitschy alternative to
Hollywood.
Affectionately nicknamed
Bollywood, the Bombay movie
industry churns out as many as 800
filhns annually, most of them lavish
milsicals featuring attractive stars
ano far-fetched plots.
(consider "Baadshah," the new
comedy-action film in which a
s ing, dancing, sharpshooting pri-
v. eye saves a government minister
from assassination.
0 r "Taal," which begins as a clas-
sic, star-crossed romance involving a
billionaire's son and a young village
woman - then she becomes an
international rock star. ("Taal"
eatned more per screen the weekend
it ppened than any Hollywood film
an ranked 20th on Variety's box
ce list. And that's without subti-
tlqs.)
Invariably set in exotic locales full
o i glamorous characters in beautiful
cqstumes, Bollywood movies are
p pular in India as escapist fantasies
fao a vast rural underclass. In the
Upited States, they often play to a
different audience: well-educated
professionals who already have
"dscaped."

"Here, it's nostalgia, a link to
home," said Karan Capoor, 31, a
management consultant in Arlington,
Va. "In a certain way, particularly for
those of us who grew up in India, it's
part of who we are."
Capoor said it's easier for the edu-
cated to enjoy a Bollywood film
here. "There's a bit of a snob factor,"
he said.
"To be honest, if I was living in
Calcutta, I wouldn't be caught dead
going to 'Baadshah."'
More people from India and
Pakistan settled in the Washington
area this decade than from anywhere
else in Asia, and community leaders
say South Asians have emerged as
one of the largest ethnic groups in
the region, their numbers approach-
ing 100,000.
The crowds at Loehmann's in Falls
Church, Va., and Laurel Town Center
Theaters in Laurel, Md., are also full
of immigrants from other parts of the
world, including Afghanistan, Iran,
the Middle East, Africa and the
Caribbean - people who grew up
watching Hindi films though they
may not speak the language.
"It's so much fun," said Asha
Farah, 33, of Vienna, Va., a Somali
nurse who previously lived in Saudi
Arabia.
"When we were little, we would
stay up all night and watch Indian
movies, so it reminds you of when
you were young."
And on a Friday night at the the-
aters, you'll find their teenage chil-
dren, born and raised in the United
States, who embrace India's pop cul-
ture as fervently as they do
America's. Some parents hope to
reinforce cultural values, as the
films often emphasize respect for
elders and the benefits of arranged
marriages.. And there are almost no
sex scenes.
"The movies have a tremendous
influence on my kids," said Rekha
Uppal, 33, a mother of two in
Potomac, Va. "We like it because it
keeps them in touch with the culture.
They learn the language, and they
have fun."
The theaters are among the few
public places where the South Asian
community comes together.
Loehmann's has shown free presen-
tations of international cricket
matches and often raises money for
community causes. Laurel serves
samosas - pastry turnovers - and
tea with the popcorn and Milk Duds.
"It's a very homey atmosphere,"
said Hamza Javed, 21, of Centreville,
Va., a Pakistani tech worker who
immigrated four years ago.
"It's the only fun I have. After 90
or 100 hours of work, it's a relief to
relax and see all the same people."

Bored
with
classes?
Tired of
watching the
same movies
over and
over on
HBO?
Write for
Daily Arts.
Call
763-0379
and ask for
Jessie or
Chris.

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