Society Hill Playhouse celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a seasonal revival of Susan Turlish’s musical-comedy send-up of the Irish, LAFFERTY’S WAKE. The cabaret-style entertainment, staged in the venue’s Red Room, enjoyed its world premiere there in 1998, subsequently toured the US and Canada, and currently runs for six weekends framing the March 17th feast day of the Emerald Isle’s patron saint.
The Red Room has been transformed into Rory’s Pub in Ballyslattery, County Donegal—Lafferty’s longtime favorite haunt–decorated with Guinness signs, Irish flags, and shamrocks. More than most productions, this interactive show relies heavily on a responsive crowd. From the moment they arrive, theater-goers are thrust into the roles of the family, friends, and in-laws attending the wake, and participate in running gags and ongoing interactions (among them a potato pass) with the cast. The target audience got into the spirit, and into the spirits (a lobby bar is open for business throughout the first act and intermission, and, of course, the drinks of choice are Guinness Stout and Jameson’s Irish Whisky!), embracing the last wish of the deceased that everyone should “Have a grand ol’ time in the name of Charlie Lafferty!”
Directed by Deen Kogan (SHP’s Managing Director), the show combines Irish storytelling (some of the stories are long-winded and less amusing than others) with topical jokes (the predictable references to the Irish taste for drink, distaste for Protestants and the English, and pedophile priests) and singalongs of traditional songs, including The Rising of the Moon, Molly Malone, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, The Orange and the Green,and, apropos to the funereal premise, Isn’t It Grand to Be Bloody Well Dead? (with its ironic pearl of wisdom, “The longer you live, the sooner you bloody well die!”). Though the ensemble’s Irish accents are inconsistent (Angie Fennell and Tori Mittelman sound the most authentic with their spot-on lilts) and Act I tends to be somewhat plodding, as it takes time to introduce the characters and to find its footing, Act II picks up speed and offers some surprising plot twists. Among the highlights are a well-played confrontation between Charlie’s long-suffering wife Kathleen (Michelle Pauls) and his ‘friend’ Molly Greaney (Fennell); a funny series of stand-up-style jokes delivered by barkeep Rory (Jason Klemm); and a rousing rendition of No Nay Never, for which the audience joins in with the cast.
Maggie and Patrick Clancy (Charlie’s daughter and son-in-law, played by Mittelman and Stephen Fala) provide live musical accompaniment on piano and fiddle, costumes by Tina Marie Heinz (who did the original designs nineteen years ago) capture the personalities and locale with an Aran fisherman’s sweater, Irish tweed flat caps, and a priest’s robe and collar, and well-chosen props offer some witty sight gags (Lafferty’s casket is supported by assorted wooden liquor crates). So, in the end, as one of the mourners notes: “For God’s sake, you got to laugh a little!” [Red Room Cabaret, Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. 8th Street] March 6-April 19, 2015, societyhillplayhouse.org.