TheatreNOW is welcoming back the excitement of St. Patrick’s Day with a good old-fashioned Irish wake, known as “Charlie Murphy’s Fond Farewell.” Apparently Charlie Murphy has dropped dead. No one seems incredibly clear as to whether this was sudden or after a long illness, but that is incidental to the important fact: He needs a proper send off, and his widow, Kathleen (Penny Kohut), determines to see it through. All of his old friends (including audience members) are invited for the occasion.
TheatreNOW transforms into Charlie’s favorite pub, owned by Shane (Ron Hasson) and tended by Hugh There (Craig Kittner). They’re on hand to pour drinks and lead the pub into song. Shane thinks of everything Kathleen needs—even gets the local priest, Charlie’s drinking buddy, Father Valentine (Anthony Corvino), to console the grieving widow.
Fueled by grief, booze and a humorous approach to the patiently unfair experience of life, the Irish wake essentially is a big party with lots of food, laughter, and more booze. All that is missing is a political speech or a collection for the “widow and orphan’s fund.”
Basically an audience-participation show, the wake contains very little plot. Most of the jokes poke fun at the audience. Interspersed are a variety of sing-alongs, complete with hand gestures. For anyone reticent from not knowing the words, well, the lyrics flash up on the screen behind the show. Also, enjoyment and participation are more important than singing ability. Ron Hasson accompanies every song on guitar, usually with Kohut next to him conducting the audience.
Of course, this is dinner theatre. So, while the barley soup is served, we all have plenty of time to contemplate the coffin that dominates the stage. Perhaps a comforting cup of warm soup is the best way to accept the futility of life. Maybe a shot of Jameson’s would help, too. One thing is for certain: Both strike the right mood for talking with Father Valentine as he comes around to offer comfort to the bereaved. Of course, Father Valentine is much more likely to offer you another drink than any real words of comfort.
Corvino’s take on the priest presents someone who has come to grips with the fact he has very little to offer his flock—he just hopes they get through this and every other part of life with minimum scaring. “Life is tough; should we all just have a drink?” seems to be his motto. According to the father, Hugh There ably assists and hinders this problem. A bit flighty, Kittner’s sweet, goofy Hugh There grins and shows all the kindness he has—which is why the rest of the village loves him so, in spite of his daft understanding of life.
Though this is not opera, or even Sondheim, “Charlie Murphy’s Fond Farewell” does include my second favorite rendition of “Danny Boy” (The Muppets’ recording is hard to top). Apparently, Charlie’s dog, named Donny, insppired the villagers to rewrite the song: “Donny Boy.” It encompasses the world of a dog visiting a grave to piss on it. It is quite cleverly written. The villagers play it straight, too, and sing it with total commitment to their subject, leaving the audience doubled over in laughter.
Dinner comes in appropriate times to the show’s stopping points. The vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie runs a close race to the best dish I’ve eaten at Chef Denise Gordon’s kitchen (eggplant wrap during Pineapple-Shaped Lamps’ “History of Comedy”; though, the cornish pastry from “The Bard’s Broads” also was tasty). Filling does not begin to describe the mountains of mashed potatoes surmounting tender vegetables in a decadent brown gravy. Just in case diners wants a little extra, a small pitcher sits on the side of the plate. Gordon’s lovely accent waves drawn on top brown a beautiful pattern, making the presentation of the meal in its own right a miniature work of art. The potatoes have heft, the filling is warm, and seasoned with a nice balance of onions, garlic and pepper to accent the butterieness of the dish. The portion is filling enough to easily be two meals itself.
After the main course, with the arrival of Carla Stanley, an old friend of Charlie’s from Galway, we discover he wasn’t quite the man his wife thought of him—and all of us in audience are apparently party to this wound. Kohut tears around the stage, and points fingers and makes accusations toward the audience—all underscored by snide comments and painful innuendos. At one point, I expected Kohut to throw a drink in someone’s face. Let’s just say, she is not a woman I would want to face in a bar fight.
Bar owner Shane has to keep the peace as best he can. Combining stoicism and calm with a gentle smile, he manages to settle most issues before they become impossible. But one cannot envy his job. By the time dessert arrives in the form of Irish creamed cupcakes, Hasson has earned another beer.
Filled with fun music, ridiculous jokes and lots of audience interaction, “Charlie Murphy’s Fond Farewell” is a St. Patrick’s Day pleaser. Come prepared to sing, laugh, and eat and drink too much!
Charlie Murphy’s Fond Farewell
Friday and Saturday, 6:30 p.m., through March 15th
show-only tickets, $12
TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th St.