Old joke: An Irishman walks out of a bar. . . . It could happen.
In Lafferty's Wake, the titular though mostly unseen character has died in one, and requested that his friends and family stage his send-off in the place he called a second home.
Society Hill Playhouse first produced Lafferty's Wake in 1996, when director Susan Turlish and a group of actors collaboratively wrote the original script. It ran until 2002, and has since enjoyed productions across North America.
This most recent version revives the madcap atmosphere of the original, updating it with references to Breaking Bad, racehorse Smarty Jones, and a few Philadelphia locales. From its first moments the show badgers audience members into participation, insisting, in its own charming way, that we have come not to see a play but to be in one, paying our respects to Charlie Lafferty, the quintessentially (read: stereotypically) Irish patriarch of the Lafferty clan.
Let me repeat, a good chunk of this show's fun comes from watching the cast drag unwitting and sometimes unwilling patrons into the story line, creating ad lib jokes around appearances, names, occupations, and, in one poor soul's case, reminding her repeatedly that she looked as if she had fallen asleep.
Otherwise, there's not much of a plot to fuss over. Kathleen Lafferty (Michelle Pauls), one of Kathleen and Charlie's 13 children, Maggie (Tori Tori Mittelman), and Maggie's husband, Patrick (Stephen Fala), have asked Father Terence (Jeff Baxt) and pub owner Rory Finn (Jason Klemm) to host a wake. We're attending, and thanks to the efforts of this cast, laughing at (almost) all the jokes, and enjoying such old favorites as "Whiskey in the Jar" and "Molly Malone."
Director Deen Kogan marshals the play along at an even pace over two hours but steps back enough to let cast members showcase their talents at improvisation and quick humor. Pauls and Klemm, in particular, along with Angie Fennell (as Lafferty's mistress), show sharp timing as they script intros to songs and play games that keep the energy high and the laughs flowing.
Soft, infrequent, lighting changes modulate the mood to a few serious asides and remembrances (it is a wake, after all). And while the ending disappoints, on the whole one joke follows the next, and the next, until even non-Irish eyes are smiling.
Through April 12 at the Red Room Cabaret of the Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St.