LAFFERTY’S WAKE is one of the most successful plays at the Society Hill Playhouse (and if the Toll Brothers get their way it may be one of the last). The present production features a delightful cast that intrigues and charms audiences who always get invited to participate in the hilarious, James Joyce-inspired wake (with Guinness and other beers served at the bar).
In this, the second of a two-part interview (read part one here), Henrik Eger talks to playwright Susan Turlish about her work.
Henrik Eger: The audiences clearly liked the music in LAFFERTY’S WAKE.
Susan Turlish: Music is such an important part of Irish culture, and I think we chose some terrific tunes for the show: the drinking songs, the fighting songs—[but] no “Danny Boy.” After the first season we [even] cast musicians for the roles of Maggie and Patrick. Lisa Timmons is a strong musician and singer of Irish music. She oversaw and taught the music on the original production and maintained and taught music to replacement performers as the show continued over five seasons. She has returned to serve as musical director on the most recent productions at the Playhouse. One of the Canadian productions used a full Irish band! Wish I could have seen that one.
Eger: LAFFERTY’S WAKE opened at the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia in October 1997. Since then, it has become Philadelphia’s most often performed Irish play. Where else has it been staged?
Turlish: The show’s been done quite a bit in Canada and the US, [including theaters in] Bergen County, NJ; Gloucester, VA; Clare, MI; Buffalo, NY; Baton Rouge, LA; Iowa Falls, IA; West Bend, WI (University of Wisconsin-Washington County); Greenfield, IN; and many more.
Eger: Did it ever see performances in Ireland?
Turlish: No, as far as I know, but I must tell you that during the original five season run of the show at Society Hill Playhouse, we did have a number of Irish in the audience, visiting from Ireland—and they loved Lafferty’s Wake.
Eger: There’s one play in Philadelphia that sells out year after year: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. LAFFERTY’S WAKE almost rivals that success with sold out performances for many weeks, in the past and, again this year. How did you do it?
Turlish: To keep audiences interested, we came up with lots of novel ideas, but the best was the idea of inviting prominent Philadelphians to appear in the show as Lafferty. John Timoney, our former Police Commissioner [and a native Irishman,] appeared as Lafferty for three performances. And so did Jim Kenney [former member of the City Council of Philadelphia and mayor-elect of Philadelphia]. Both were fantastic—and proceeds from their shows went to charity.
Eger: Have you written other plays and what became of them?
Turlish: I moved to Geneva, NY in 2007. It snows a lot up here, [and so] I began work on a play I’d been thinking about and researching for quite some time. I finally finished it. Surrealists Play, or: A Night at the Gallery is about Peggy Guggenheim and friends. It takes place on a snowy night in January, 1943. Peggy is having a little cocktail party for friends and relatives, as well as a few uninvited guests, in her Art Gallery: Art of this Century. I think it’s hilarious and so do many who’ve read it. It’s a romp, a hoot, and there’s music! Characters include Peggy, her husband at that time, Max Ernst, his son Jimmy, Dorothea Lang, Samuel Beckett, Uncle Sol Guggenheim, and other surprise guests. The play has not been performed, but I’d really love to hear it read. I also have ideas for other plays, but can’t get started.
Eger: Susan, I hope it will snow heavily this year up in your neck of the woods, so that you can start another play, another LAFFERTY’S WAKE—this time, waking up, not the dead, but the living. After all, it’s election time. 2016 is almost knocking at the gate.
LAFFERTY’S WAKE runs at the Society Hill Playhouse, [507 S. 8th Street], Friday’s and Saturday’s at 8 pm, Sunday’s at 3 pm, through December 20, 2015. For tickets call (215) 923-0210; societyhillplayhouse.org.