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Passing Notes 

The high end of postmodern, deconstructed theater is performance art. The low end is the interactive show. Performance art is more noted for serious cultural ambitions than full houses. Interactive shows pack 'em in. Think of Late Night Catechism and Tina And Tony's Italian Wedding. Now the Jefferson Performing Arts Society offers us Flanagan's Wake, an interactive, partly improvisational show at Teatro Wego.

Flanagan's Wake is a mixture of comic sketch and parlor game. The show started in Chicago in 1994 and just kept chugging along. It chugged to Philadelphia and Los Angeles and a dozen cities in between. In fact, Mark Czoske, who directed Flanagan here, also directed it in Chicago, Boston and Detroit.

Audiences can be a bit shy, especially when the protective, invisible fourth wall is breached. So, Flanagan's bereaved friends and family (not to mention a befuddled priest) infiltrate the audience while the house lights are still on. They're Irish, don't you know. In fact, we're not in Westwego anymore. We've somehow been teleported to the village of Grapplin in County Sligo.

These emerald isle citizens shake our hands, make small talk and even give us name tags. Mine said "Dalt Patrick". For all the men are Patricks, while all the women are Mary this or Mary that (depending what their real names are) as in Mary Wanda or Mary Ellen or, in some cases, Mary Mary.

This schmoozing went on for 10 or 15 minutes and I began to think Flanagan's Wake was the most subtle, experimental and diffuse comedy I had ever seen. But, in fact, it hadn't yet begun.

Finally, the cast goes up on stage. From then on, although interaction continues in one form or another throughout, the actors take charge and carry the show. They each portray a distinct character and they each have their moment in the spotlight.

At the center of attention, of course, we have Flanagan, the deceased, who is presently tucked away in his rough casket, between an old dart board and a poster advertising Guinness. What Flanagan's reactions are to the tributes and reminiscences of the gathered mourners, we can not say. But we get a rousing comic turn from each of the bereaved.

We hear from his widowed fiancŽ (if I wasn't confused by the blarney), from the widowed fiancŽ's brother, from Flanagan's best drinking buddy, from the mayor of Grapplin, from mother Flanagan (who is wheelchair-bound and has a suspicious five o'clock shadow), from the priest (whose dogma is derived from the Gospel according to Kevin) and from a lovely lass with a mystical bent who converses with banshees and such.

The fun is buoyed by mood music from a piano off to one side of the stage. There are occasional songs. One audience member did himself proud with a solo of Danny Boy and three middle-age couples were dragooned into clog dancing, or was that clogged dancing?

Kerry Cahill, Barry Hubbard, Jerry Lee Leighton, Jeffrey Martorell, Krista Schafer, Bob Scully and Michael Sullivan perform -- and improvise -- with poise and panache.

Meanwhile, Rivertown Rep wowed the crowd recently with an exhilarating production of Urinetown The Musical. Clearly, this script was a bold departure for the venerable Playhouse. But, in fact, except for the provocative title and a few wee-wee jokes, the show was good, clean fun.

The show, which won Tony Awards for Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical in 2002, tells the story of a town where a tycoon has cornered the market in peeing. You've got to pay to pee. And, if you try to do it for free in the road, or any place else, you get busted.

Urinetown is a satire, but of what? Corporate greed? Musicals in general? Whatever. It was great fun.

Tip of the hat to choreographer Kelly Fouchi, musical director Lori Dewitt, set designer Sean Creel and costume designer Linda Fried. And to the large, enthusiastic cast featuring, among others, Roland "Butch" Caire, Meredith Long-Dieth, Richard Arnold and Carrie Black.

I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the wonderfully talented theater colleague that we so recently lost. I didn't know Mark Krasnoff, except in passing. But I saw his Elephant Man and his Amadeus performances and I was struck like everyone else by the truthfulness and depth of his acting. I was shocked and saddened to learn he had taken his own life. It is a loss for all of us. We can only hope that he at last has found peace.

click to enlarge The cast of Flanagan's Wake mingles with the bereaved and - bemused.
  • The cast of Flanagan's Wake mingles with the bereaved and bemused.
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