“Vivid storytelling, skillful acting, versatile set design” in “Minding Frankie”

Review by Cherie Messore, buffalotheatreguide.com
November 10, 2017

We should all live in the world Maeve Binchy created. Gentle moments are soft as a whisper. Strong emotions are passions with purpose. Hate is usually couched in fear, and while it’s uncomfortable, it’s not vitriolic. And the good guy always wins.

“Minding Frankie” was one of Binchy’s last novels (published two years before her death) and is the only one adapted for the stage, nicely done by Shay Linehan. Irish Classical Theatre’s production is the North American premiere.

Linehan did a fine job scaling back the abundant characters of the novel to this clean and taut production for two actors in multiple tiny roles.

Director Chris Kelly struck gold with his two actors of choice. Christian Brandjes’ dominant role is Noel, the father and minder of infant Frankie, the poor dear, who is born out of wedlock to a terminally ill woman who professes that Noel is the biological dad.

Kristen Tripp Kelley is Frankie’s mom Stella, but for most of show she is Moira, the social worker who is not convinced that Noel, with his love of the drink, is father material. And so it goes.

Turns out Noel can manage just fine, most of the time, with a little help from his extended family of village folk, who appear to the audience only in one-sided dialogue..

Both Brandjes and Kelly shine in their primary roles and their multiple character appearances, too. Kelley’s shift from the disdainful social worker Moira from dying mama Stella is the farthest stretch of all, and she manages this beautifully. Brandjes’ morph from drunk Noel to waiter is charming and deft. Both actors use their voices and body language well, with carefully placed steps and nuances, aided by randomly small props and pieces. Whoever thought a simple plastic rain bonnet was all you needed to change personalities, or a tilt to your wrist can suggest a serving tray? A truly skilled actor can make you see something new in every suggestion.

Skillful acting, versatile set design, simple costumes,  and minimalist props powerfully suggest people, places, and objects here, supporting a sentimental and sweet story. Designer Paul Bostaph’s set is a series of oversized alphabet blocks that shift into a bed, a changing table, and a bar, besides holding teaser props to fold our imaginations into the space and story. A vintage receiver sans cord is the non-cellular phone. Hands curved around air just so suggest holding the wriggly curves of an infant.  I like that this production makes you work along with the actors to make the story very real in your mind’s eye. It’s this subtly vivid storytelling that draws you in and makes you very glad you are there.

Running time is just over two hours with a 15 minute intermission.

“Minding Frankie” runs until November 26, 2017 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Minding Frankie’ at Irish Classical Theatre