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Review: A high old time at ‘Lafferty’s Wake’

 Jason Klemm as Rory, the pub owner, in Society Hill Playhouse's production of 'Lafferty's Wake.' (Photo courtesy of Michelle Pauls)

Jason Klemm as Rory, the pub owner, in Society Hill Playhouse's production of 'Lafferty's Wake.' (Photo courtesy of Michelle Pauls)

Let’s raise a pint to Charlie Lafferty. He was easy with a joke, yet quick to anger. He was a good husband, except when he wasn’t. He had the most piercing blue eyes, or maybe they were green.

Everyone has the clearest memories of the newly deceased Charlie Lafferty, and all of them are different. Who was this guy? As we gather for “Lafferty’s Wake” in the Irish village of Ballyslattery, we learn more and more about him — and also less and less.

One thing’s for sure — from the minute we walk into the wake, we’re friends, family and maybe even enemies of the dead man, whose coffin sits before us at Rory’s Pub. There, the Lafferty family has gathered to celebrate (or decimate) his time on earth.

That Irish right of passage to the beyond is itself happily skewered in the entertaining “Lafferty’s Wake,” being revived at Society Hill Playhouse, its original presenter. Susan Turlish wrote and directed what’s labeled as the “musical entertainment” that opened 19 years ago and ran at the Playhouse four years.

It’s being revived in the downstairs Red Room Cabaret, its original space, now outfitted by designer Kevin Jordan as Rory’s Pub and, as usual, filled with cafe tables and a few rows of standard seating for the audience. Drinks are available and the place has a cozy feel, and by the end of the (slightly overlong) two-hour show … er, wake, we’re all invoked in the memory of poor old Lafferty. The wake has swept us into commenting on his life ourselves, singing choruses of Irish standards and passing a somewhat dangerous potato.

It’s all good fun and thoroughly non-threatening — interactive feel-good theater. This time around, it’s directed by Society Hill Playhouse’s co-founder and leader Deen Kogan, who uses every bit of the space to maximum advantage and gets a pleasant delivery in understandable brogue out of her cast.

The delightful Michelle Pauls plays Lafferty’s long-suffering wife, mother of 12 children or maybe 13, the oldest of whom is played by Tori Mittelman, who accompanies the proceedings on violin along with her husband (played by Stephen Fala, who also plays the pub’s piano). Rory, the pub owner, is Jason Klemm, and a few surprise visitors (Angie Fennell and Dave Ferrier) are among us. Of course, there’s the parish priest, taking a nip or 10 – an amusing performance by Jeff Baxt, who is every bit the character.

There are Irish jokes old and new, and the cast is adept at tailoring the script to the audience’s responses. They’re all focused on the legacy of the late Lafferty — for sure, they knew him well, now didn’t they? Or not at all.

 

“Lafferty’s Wake” is extended through April 19 at Society Hill Playhouse, Eighth Street between Lombard and South Streets. 215-923-0210 or www.societyhillplayhouse.org.

 

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