The narrative voices of Irish novelist and playwright Maeve Binchy that emerge in Minding Frankie come through with great intensity and enormous emotion in this stage version of a Canadian premier directed by John P Kelly, now on at the Gladstone theater. I attended a preview which was not yet the official opening of the show but because this was the only possible moment to see the play and as I have always admired Kelly’s work I was not going to miss it.
This performance which emphasized the magic of the spoken word enhanced by soundscapes that brought to life the crying of children, noises of the city streets and related moments in space that touched our sense of reality was the result of a meticulous orchestration on the part of the whole production team. The story moved from Noel Lynch’s origins, the suffering of Stella his former girlfriend who named Noel the guardian and assumed father of her new-born daughter Frankie just before the mother’s own death from cancer. This final wish of the mother brought to life the story of Noel Lynch Stella Dickson and eventually called up the presence of Moira Tierney, an angry social worker who wanted to give Frankie to a foster home where she felt the girl would have a much better life.
Most striking was the sensitive performance by Lawrence Evenchick who not only maintained his Irish accent but who was entirely convincing as Noel Lynch the ex-alcoholic so deeply committed to his relationship with the baby that all his caring gestures towards that little ball of smelly diapers and powerful lungs gave him the strength to give up drinking but also produced a most believable baby-father relationship on stage. The cuddling of the little bundle, the way he chatted and joked with tiny Frankie, the way the new papa defended the child from the onslaughts of the social worker always seeking the slightest indication that Noel was not capable of being a good father. This is certainly one of Evenchick’s most important performances because of the difficulty of such a role and its intense level of overflowing sensitivity that completely avoided any trace of maudlin overacting.
Vivian Burns, as Moira the social worker, whose compulsive worry and constant need to interfere between with Lynch and the child, allowed the playwright to delve deeply into Moira’s troubled character, proving how complex the script really is. Some critics have spoken about the inevitable “happy endings” which Binchy brings to her work but in this case, the ending corresponded to down to earth common sense, not to any deus ex machina ultra-theatrical solution aimed at changing the world or even satisfying the expectations of the audience.
The author’s humbleness is one of the most endearing elements of the show which director John P Kelly respects till the very end.
Minding Frankie is a show that will linger in the minds of parents and would be parents for many years to come. It plays at the Gladstone theatre until January 26.
A SevenThirty productions show in association with Breda Cashe productions
This article originally appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on January 17, 2019, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.