McDonagh on stage with pieces of the set at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan. Photo by Jon Cronin
BY JON CRONIN
After 40 years as a city cab driver, Middle Village resident John McDonagh decided to turn off the meter and relay the colorful experiences he’s had behind the wheel of a yellow cab.
In his new one man show, “Off The Meter And On The Record,” premiering at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan on Oct. 6, McDonagh tells all the juicy stories about chauffeuring the Manhattan elite, celebrities and the misfits he met in between.
In the play, he expounds upon his adventures as a political activist, standing up for the rights of cab drivers and the Irish under British rule in his parents’ country. McDonagh also tells stories about competing for a spot on the Amazing Race, an unaired pilot for a taxi reality show; helping The Munsters actor Al Lewis run for governor under the Green Party ticket in 1998; showing the sights to famed British thespian Stephen Frye in Middle Village; his interview on Fox News in 2004 after he organized a “Cabbies Against Bush” campaign and teaching the UK Top Gear’s Richard Hammond how to drive a cab.
He most recently filmed a segment for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show that will air during the third or fourth week of October.
McDonagh is the son of Irish immigrants and claims that he never had any literary aspirations. In the typical fashion of an Irish seanchai, the genesis of his stories were perfected during retellings at Rocky Sullivan’s Pub with other cabbies when it was located in Manhattan on Lexington Avenue and, later, when it moved to Red Hook in Brooklyn.
Although not a writer, McDonagh is not an unexperienced showman. He has been a co-host and producer of a show on WBAI radio known as Radio Free Eireann for more than 20 years that focuses on the Irish experience in the United States and abroad and now co-hosts a show—Talk Mac, We and Thee—with Malachy McCourt and Corey Kilgannon.
McCourt—a writer, actor and brother of famed Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt—aided McDonagh in sharpening his storytelling abilities and introduced him to Ciaran O’Reilly, the founder of the Irish Repertory Theatre.
O’Reilly is also directing the show and the two are currently in rehearsals for five hours a day.
“I’m not an actor,” said McDonagh, “I’m a cab driver pretending to be an actor.”
Still, McDonagh is honored that O’Reilly, the founder of one of New York City’s most prestigious off-Broadway theaters, has taken such an interest in the show that he is also directing it. McDonagh has performed his show across the five boroughs in many venues.
“I’m used to just showing up with a speaker, now there’s a director and marks I have to hit,” he said. “They have a lot of confidence in me.”
As a young man, McDonagh joined the army after graduating from Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood and was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. When he came back, he got his hack license to drive a cab and, in the late 1970s, met his wife while they were both working at an Irish-American newspaper in Manhattan.
Today, he and his wife have three adult daughters who have finished college and they all helped out publicizing the play.
“I got them educated and now they’re helping me,” he said.
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin.