Onstage / Minding Frankie
The adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s play opens at Irish Classical Theatre this weekend
Irish Classical Theatre Company
By Shay Linehan, adapted from Maeve Binchy’s novel of the same name
Director: Chris Kelly
Cast: Christian Brandjes, Kristen Tripp Kelley
Fans of Maeve Binchy are in for a treat with Minding Frankie, an adaptation of the late novelist’s book of the same name. “I had met Maeve and Gordon years before when I directed a series of her short stories for the stage—one story set in a sex shop, one in a pharmacy, and one about an affair conducted in a car on the road to Cork city,” says Linehan, who runs a theater company in the town where Binchy was born, and lived with husband Gordon Snell. “Maeve’s reaction was, ‘I’d forgotten how obsessed I am with sex’.”
At the time, Binchy’s novel, Tara Road, was being filmed in Dublin, and Binchy told Linehan that she preferred being in the theater, listening to actors in the moment, rather than on the sterile set of a movie. So, when Linehan approached Snell about adapting Minding Frankie, they both felt, even though a Binchy novel had yet to be adapted for stage, that the author—who died in 2012—would approve.
“I loved the story from the start,” Linehan says. “It is a duel between two opposing forces for possession of a child. What more could you ask for as a playwright? It is also the last novel that she saw published in her lifetime. I see it in a way as a metaphor for writing: who will mind my legacy?”
For those unfamiliar with the story: Noel Lynch is a functioning alcoholic when he gets a call from Stella, a girlfriend with whom he shared a drunken weekend. Stella is having Noel’s child; she is also imminently dying from cancer. Stella wants Noel to raise their daughter, Frankie.
“I wrote a one-man version of Frankie for the 2013 celebration [of Binchy’s life at the Dalkey Book Festival] that left everybody looking for more,” Linehan says. “I then developed an extended version, which is the one running in Buffalo. It’s a story where two forces are at war. I felt it should be done with a cast of two. I looked at how these two could represent a wider community, and it seemed to work better than having a busy stage with folks coming and going. We did an initial run in Ireland last year and into 2017, around sixty-five shows in all. Every performance, without fail, ended with a standing ovation.
“We all took some credit for that—great actors, great producer, even some of the writing wasn’t bad—but we all knew in our hearts that Binchy storytelling was the magic ingredient,” Lineham continues. “It reminds me of my granny who would go to Lourdes back in the day, and bring back a plastic bottle of holy Lourdes water to cure all our ills. I can’t help but feel that all of us ‘creatives’ were merely the plastic bottle that held the miracle of Maeve. [Producer] Peter Sheridan said of the thousands of scripts he has come across in his long career, this is the best by a mile, particularly the ending. The play has audiences laughing from the first line. But it is also quite sad in places. Maeve’s writing has been described as bittersweet, so maybe her spirit is still around influencing things.”
The adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie opens at Irish Classical Theatre November 3 (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).