There's a whole lot of malarkey and not much mournin' going on at "Flanagan's Wake," the audience-interactive comedy that opened to sold-out houses last weekend at Kennedy's Theatre in Cleveland.
The nutty fun at this spirited interactive Irish wake, held in the basement "pub" beneath the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, starts with the preshow. Audience members just couldn't say no to the charismatic Father, played Saturday night by the hilarious John Busser, who ordered sinners in our midst to pray at the kneeler in front of Flanagan's casket. He even led them through a loud Lord's Prayer with some unusual dance gyrations, and offered "simple mail-order Catholic conversion kits" to all the non-Catholics he counted in the house.
For this show, the folks from the mythical village of Grapplin, Ireland, gather to pay their respects to the deceased Flanagan at Mayor Martin O'Doul's (Gene Foster) pub. It's the 10th year that Frankie Kong Players has produced the show at Playhouse Square.
The audience loves becoming part of the play by supplying key elements of Flanagan's story to the cast of seven. The actors are so accomplished in their improvisatory skills, they can take any word the audience throws at them and spin a wild yarn around it about Flanagan's death.
Of course, the story of dearly departed Flanagan, well known for his ability to down a pint or two, goes off in wild improvisational directions. Based on audience input, there's a different tall tale created during each show.
The audience quickly learns that the more absurd the words they feed the actors, the better. On Saturday night, the actors had to put a story together about Flanagan that included a headless bat, a chifforobe and a distillery.
The crowd got the cast into some impromptu song-making Saturday too, throwing out song titles "Jump Around" and "Rolling in the Deep" for actor/producer Sean Lackey to put his own Flanagan spin on. Then the cast upped the ante even further by demanding Lackey do a rhyming second verse that even included the words "head cheese."
The cast and keyboard player John Franks as Declan led the audience in rowdy song and even brought theatergoers on stage to sing an Irish tune or stumble around as Irish dancers. Cast members poked fun at audience members with choice Irish insults and Father even stopped his ears up with tissues when a guest sang.
Fiancee Fiona (Barb Dragony) spends a lot of time lying on top of Flanagan's coffin crying, villager Kathleen (Annie Dunn) vehemently tells some banshee stories, Father gives a weird theology lesson on the "Book of Kevin" and Flanagan's Mother (Joe Milan) sits in a wheelchair speaking gibberish.
"Flanagan's" interactive fun began with its 1994 premiere in Chicago, where it became one of the longest-running shows in that city's theater history. "Flanagan's Wake" made its Cleveland debut in 1996 with the Irish Rodeo Clowns and has been produced by Northeast Ohio-based Frankie Kong Players for its latest decade-long incarnation.
This wild show has a number of Cleveland-specific jokes and lots of fun surprises. There's also a bar, so theatergoers can enjoy an adult beverage (of course, there's Guinness) during the rollicking fun.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.