Friday, August 30, 2002

Flanagan's Wake (Irish Rodeo Clowns)

Irish wake can be fun at the Powerhouse

Their advertisements read “Come shed a tear, sing a song or two and share a few pints in this wildly funny and irreverent Irish Wake.” ‘Tis true. Much like TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING and SECOND CITY, FLANAGAN’S WAKE is an interactive experience that makes for a delightful evening.

The premise is the celebration of the life and death of Flanagan in the mythical town of Grapplin, County Sligo, Ireland. As the audience, who are the “mourners” enter they are confronted by a casket and members of the cast greeting you and asking your name. Every person is given a name tag...all men, true to Irish tradition, are emblazoned with “Patrick” as a middle name. All the women’s first names are, of course, “Mary.” You’ll be called by your new name all night. We meet Flanagan’s long time fiancee, his priest, his mother and others who knew the deceased. As attenders you might be asked to sing one of the deceased’s favorite songs. Or, you might be called on to share a story of an experience you had with Flanagan. Don’t go with the idea of being a passive bystander. It will probably be impossible as the cast members sit next to you, wander around the hall, and engage you in conversation. They do everything except buy you beer, which is available at the bar all night.

The show has been performed for eight years in Chicago. It opened in Cleveland in 1996 at Kennedy’s in Playhouse Square, later moving to the Flats. The local production is performed by the Irish Rodeo Clowns who are a “merry band of actors and actresses who share a common vision to honor the greatest treasure God graced the Irish with, a deep passion for life and love.” Expect to hear blasphemist Catholic statements, many by the “priest.” Expect to hear the unexpected, lines such as “they don’t make Jews like Jesus anymore.” It’s all part of the experience. The more you are prepared to just relax, participate, and have a good time, the more you’ll enjoy yourself. As the program states, “the play may be a bit bawdy or a touch irreverent on occasion, but it is all in good fun.”

The cast list includes 20 performers though only eight appear nightly. As cast members differ greatly in their improv abilities, the show varies greatly according to who is performing the evening you attend.

On the night I attended stellar performances were presented by Gene Foster, who portrayed the mayor, Michael Mueller, adlibbing through the role of Mickey, the brother of Flanagan’s long time fiancee, and John M. Regan as the priest. All seemed comfortable, involved, and quick with the improvisations. Kira Pilat as Tara, the pianist, masterfully ad libs on the ivories to fit the mood of the presentation and fill in with appropriate songs, such as “Danny Boy.”

Capsule judgement: The show ends with the plea, “If you like us, tell 100 or 200 of your friends. If not, shut your mouth.” You’ll probably be telling many of your friends. This is a fun, if not spectacular evening of entertainment.