By Connie Bollinger
Full disclosure: I ordinarily don’t enjoy audience interactive productions However, “Flanagan’s Wake,” playing now through March 21 at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, proved to be a delightful exception.
Part improv, part scripted, part interactive,”Flanagan’s Wake” tells the story of an Irishman’s funeral and the family and friends who come together in an Irish pub to toast him on his way to paradise.
Already a long-running smash hit in Chicago, Emery Entertainment has moved the interactive play to St. Louis, where the locals memorialize his passing with plenty o’ pints, zany sing-a-longs and witty tales.
There’s a priest, of course, dear Father Damon Fitzgerald, played by Alan Knoll, whose penchant for sacrilege and gambling is well presented. Knoll tells a thumping good story about the deceased and about an unknown Apostle named Kevin.
Mother Flanagan is there, an ancient, salacious, Gaelic speaking old blister, played to perfection by Bill Burke. Mayor Martin O’Doul (Lynn Berg) hosts the gathering, as it’s his Pub after all.
Brett Ambler is Brian Ballybunion, a fun-loving handsome young man with big dreams. Dustin Petrillo plays Mikey, Teresa Doggett is Kathleen Mooney, the Irish Pagan, and Jennifer Theby-Quinn is Fiona Finn, Flanagan’s long-time fiance.
Music Director Charlie Mueller commands the pub piano, accompanying some of the most surprising songs we’ve ever heard, and three patient bartenders (Janelle Pierce, Sean Seifert, and Matt Billings) round out the cast, along with Patrick Blindauer playing the accordion.
The assembled audience are the cousins and friends come to participate in Flanagan’s send-off.
A romp of this magnitude requires a talented director and an equally skilled stage manager. Luckily, Director Lee Anne Mathews and Stage Manager Emily Clinger are up to the challenge, keeping the action moving along at a break-neck pace but never giving us the feeling of being rushed.
The cast of “Flanagan’s Wake” are Improv wizards. Brett Ambler creates a wonderfully funny song out of thin air right before our eyes. Theresa Doggett’s Pagan Kathleen tells a tale of a visit from the “Little People” that is both surprising and, I’m sure, mostly improvised.
The Mayor, Lynn Berg, also spins a yarn about Flanagan that incorporates audience suggestions and never misses a beat; but for me, the favorite is Jennifer Theby-Quinn’s Fiona, the long suffering, hard drinking, short-tempered fiance whose Banshee;like wails of grief will literally make your ears ring. Fiona throws herself on Flanagan’s casket at every opportunity, causing brother Mikey (Dustin Petrillo) to have to wrestle her off kicking and screaming.
Some of you may remember Ms Theby-Quinn in Westport’s production of “Avenue Q,” where she played Kate Monster and Lucy the Lounge Singer. Indeed, much of the cast of “Flanagan’s Wake” have St. Louis connections.
Teresa Doggett (Kathleen) recently appeared in “Pride and Prejudice” at the Rep and is also the resident Costume Designer for the Union Avenue Opera.
Bill Burke (Ma) comes to the Playhouse from St. Louis’ own Stray Dog Theater where he recently played in “The Tempest” and “Macbeth.” Patrick Blindauer has appeared in movie and television productions as well as several productions at the Muny. Brett Ambler played Brian in “Avenue Q” last year at Westport, and Dustin Petrillo’s St. Louis credits include Myriad Productions’ “Heathers the Musical” where he played JD.
“Flanagan’s Wake” is irreverent, loud, sarcastic, and delightful — just like family.
The Playhouse @Westport presents “Flanagan’s Wake” Jan. 24 through March 21. Performances run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with a special Tuesday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day performance. Tickets are available at www.metrotix.com or at the box office one hour prior to show time. Groups of 10 or more should call 314-616-4455 for special rates. The Playhouse is located at 635 Westport. Visit www.playhouseatwestport.com for more information.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.