BWW Review: FLANAGAN'S WAKE Invites Participation, Improvs Your Stories, and Pays Respects to Everyone's Favorite Cousin
Flanagan has passed. It was terrible how he went. It was terrible that he went. But here you are in the pub with the others to hear the reading of the will and to mourn his passing at a traditional Irish Catholic wake. Not Irish? Or Catholic? Not a problem. Grab a name tag in the lobby before you enter (you'll get a fittingly new name) and a stiff drink or two (now you're set!) and hurry on inside, because you won't want to miss a thing. Flanagan's Wake: The Hilarious Interactive Irish Wake kicks off with a pre-show show that sets the tone where, among other happenings, Father Fitzgerald (Alan Knoll) mills through the crowd attempting to sell mail-order Catholicism conversion kits. As the real action gets started, you and all the other Murphy and O'Brien cousins are notified that you'll be fully participating in this altogether entertainingly offbeat show to memorialize dear old Flanagan's passing. Part improv, part script, you might want to brush up on your Mad Lib skills, because there are plenty of blanks to fill in, which take the story down hilariously unexpected paths.
Here at the pub, where there are bartenders stage left and a pianist and a dead microphone (a running gag for all) stage right, you'll meet Fiona Finn (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), who... well, let's just say... who knows how to make an entrance. She is Flanagan's fiancée of 30 years now, and well... let's just say she misses him an awful lot. Theby-Quinn who is equally skilled at drama and comedy delivers a performance that is flawlessly on point.
Fiona's brother Mikey (Dustin Petrillo) is here as well, expected to rein in his bereaved sister, only this is a Herculean feat at times, as Fiona is not one to be reined. Mikey Finn, the best-known writer in all of County Sligo, delivers a touching eulogy (to say the very, very least) and amusingly punctuates the comedy throughout with witty one-liners from strategic vantage points all around the theater.
Flanagan's good friend Brian Bellybunion (Brett Ambler) has a few ideas about what to do with Flanagan's land (they all do, actually), but Bellybunion, whose business includes similar pursuits is somewhat of an expert. And speaking of expertise, though we can't be certain how much is scripted and how much is made up on-the-fly, one gets the sense that Ambler is called upon numerous times to perform the most challenging of improvs. Like a pro, Ambler produces comedy gold with pizzazz and hilarity over and over again.
Mayor (Lynn Berg) endeavors to keep this rowdy bunch on task as the tributes are shared and the will is read, while the colorful town pagan Kathleen (Teresa Doggett) spins wild and entertaining tales, producing prop after amusing prop from an enormous patchwork cross-body purse. Flanagan's Ma (Bill Burke) with her ample bosom is also here, speaking Gaelic or maybe just gibberish. Regardless, it is so nice we've all gathered to pay our respects to her.
Patrick Blindauer on piano keeps the pub lively, as if there's not enough going on already, and as Father Fitzgerald's benediction turns to a full-out sermon from the Book of Kevin (the 5th of the Gospels - look it up), you are sure to have a side-splittingly great time. Flanagan's Wake also stars Matt Billings, Steve Isom, Janelle Pierce, and Sean Seifert on alternate nights. The show is something you could see many times and still never be sure of what might happen next. Sing along if you want. Just keep your glass full! There's much to toast. (Poor Flanagan.)
Guaranteed: you've never had so much fun at a wake.
Flanagan's Wake: The Hilarious Interactive Irish Wake, a long-running smash-hit in Chicago, was conceived by Jack Bronis; created by Jimmy Binns, Amy Binns-Calvey, Geoff Binns-Calvey, Jack Bronis, Mark Czoske, Phil Lusardi, Patricia Musker, and Bonnie Shadrake; with music by Bonnie Shadrake; and lyrics by Jimmy Binns and Bonnie Shadrake. Lee Anne Mathews directs this production with music director Charlie Mueller. It runs through March 21 at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For tickets and more information: https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/flanagans-wake