Most of the cast members tackle multiple roles, and some of the funnier parts come from seeing the same actor in diametrically opposed guises.
If weddings are notorious for bringing out weird family dynamics, then surely funerals are worse, given the gloomy circumstances. Broom Street Theater's production of Callen Harty's 2006 play, A Wake, explores the tensions in an Irish Catholic family living somewhere in Wisconsin.
Adam Molony's just been killed due to a car-cow collision, and there's a good chance that the booze-loving Adam was schnockered while it happened. His cousin, Kieran, decides that the best way to remember Adam is to have a traditional Irish wake, with the body laid out for viewing in his mother's house. Throughout the afternoon, a motley crew of relatives and friends come to pay their respects, and hilarity ensues -- or at least it's supposed to.
The greatest problem with A Wake, which is billed as a comedy, is that it's simply not funny enough most of the time, and its efforts to mix humor with poignancy are checkered. A flashback dealing with military deaths has both a quasi-solemn funeral scene but also a bit of silly comedy in which mannequin parts go flying as characters step on booby traps.
The play reminds us repeatedly that members of the Molony clan meet their ends in strange ways, like a young girl who may have been crushed by a wheel of cheese. The matriarch, Deirdre, has antlers permanently embedded in her bosom due to a car crash with a deer. This leads to not one but two "nice rack" jokes.
There's also an Irish keener who's been hired by Kieran to add a note of authenticity to the proceedings. Of course, she's terrible and screechy, and the gag wears thin pretty quickly, especially when she launches into a bout of "antler keening" after hearing Deirdre's impalement tale.
There are brighter spots, however. Most of the cast members tackle multiple roles, and some of the funnier parts come from seeing the same actor in diametrically opposed guises. Christina Beller plays Riona, a weird, nervous young woman. Riona's character is mostly fleshed out through body language: she stands gawkily, nervously twirling her hair and peering out through heavy glasses. Beller's other character, Estella, is the town vamp.
Scott Rawson takes on four roles, two of them major: the dowager aunt Eunice; Gilly, the brother of the deceased; a local farmer; and a creepy Harley-riding guy who shows up to pay his respects. Eunice's role is perhaps the strongest of the play, and, again, much of the character is in the body language, such as when Eunice creeps glacially across the stage, clutching her walker with tennis balls on the feet.
Although comedies often find their humor in "types," there's a bit too much stereotyping here, from local farmers who are dumb yokels to a bigoted Army lieutenant who calls Arabs "camel jockeys."
As directed by Matt Kenyon, A Wake also mixes in some pop-culture references via sound, from the antic Benny Hill theme music as a parade of mourners makes the rounds to pay perfunctory condolences, to the "doodle-oodle-oo" noise from Wayne's World used to mark transitions to flashbacks.
While A Wake makes some valid observations about how families handle death (for example, how some family members embrace religion as a source of comfort while others reject it), in the end, the play has a bit of an identity crisis, still searching for a workable way to blend comedy and drama.