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Die laughing: Grassroots comedy set at Irish wake

The cast of “Flanagan’s Wake” includes (front row, from left) Karen Molitor, Jay Myer, Mary Jane Mardesen, and (back, from left) Daryl Hrdlicka, Elaina Ennen, Marvin Zylstra, Mary Rydeen and Alex Myrom pose for a photo at the Elks Club in Worthington. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON — Dearly departed Flanagan — if he only knew the songs, tales and imbibing of pints that his death will inspire.

“Flanagan’s Wake,” an interactive comedy set in an Irish bereavement, will be offered next weekend as a dinner theater by Grassroots Community Theatre and the Worthington Elks Club.

Under the direction of Mary Jane Mardesen, the audience will join the cast on a journey to the Emerald Isle, where they will mourn Flanagan in a manner that is not exactly sorrowful or respectful of the dead.

“We always worry that when you put the word wake in the title, people think it’s going to be glum and sad,” said Mardesen. “We’re going to erase that notion right away. If they think of it as a wake-up, not a wake, it will be OK.”

“Flanagan’s Wake” takes place in Graplin, County Sligo, Ireland — requiring the cast members to draw on their inner Irish and hone their accents.

“I be the priest, the Irish priest,” said Jay Myer, a cast member from Rushmore, slipping easily into a lilting brogue. “We do need a touch of the Irish and a touch of the brew to go with it.”

For Myer, the accent came quite naturally, perhaps due to one-quarter Irish ancestry.

“I can turn it on and off, but it doesn’t hurt to practice it, and when I can promote the play, I will,” he said.

Myer also had a part in last year’s Grassroots production, “Contempt of Court,” another interactive play. The cast members interact freely with the audience, taking cues from the spectators and at times even drawing them into the action.

“The audience pretty much knows that coming in, and they’re very receptive to it,” Myer said, recounting one of the more memorable “interactions” from last year. “A gentleman caught me very much off guard. I was the court bailiff officer last year, and as such had to draft a court stenographer from the audience. So I asked him to repeat the alphabet, A to Z. He asked me if I wanted him to do it from the beginning or the end, and I said, “Opposing ends, to the middle,” and he did it. I thought I had a tough assignment there, and he lived up to it.”

The Grassroots company boasts a few newcomers to its ranks this season, including Brianna Routh, who moved to Worthington last summer to work with the University of Minnesota Extension.

“I did quite a bit of acting and theater kinds of things when I was in high school, but it’s been a while since I’ve done some theater,” said Routh, who grew up in central Iowa. “In high school, I was in the plays, in speech — went to all-state for solo mime and storytelling, those kinds of ridiculous things.”

Routh’s role in “Flanagan’s Wake” borders on the ridiculous.

“My part is Kathleen, and I’m the town eccentric, if you will,” she described. “I’ve been told that I’ve been typecast into this part. She says inappropriate things, and she also has very strong beliefs about things like the Little People and Banshees, things that go with the Irish folklore. There’s got to be one person who believes in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I’m definitely that person.”

Drawing on her previous improvisational experience, Routh is having fun developing her character and anticipating what might happen with the audience in place.

“With improv, you usually get suggestions from the audience beforehand, so this will be fairly similar, you just get the suggestions on the spot,” she said. “I have a part where I get to use some of that improv to make up a very convincing story about how Flanagan did, in fact, pass away, so that should be a fun highlight of the night.”

As the director of this interactive experience, Mardesen enjoys the laidback atmosphere and anticipating the unanticipatable.

“There is a structure for the play, but the adlibbing kind of removes you from the heavy burden of ‘I’ve got to get this line right,’” she explained, “as long as you get the cue out to the next person who has to take over. This one has a lot of lines, however, but if memorizing is hard, you can weasel your way out of it as long as you have the structure in your head.”

The cast encourages the audience members to come prepared to get into the spirit of the interactive format.

“They have to remember there are no wrong answers, only things that make the play funnier,” noted Routh. “I’m excited to see how my fellow community members can interact with the play.”

“Flanagan’s Wake” will be presented beginning with dinner at 6 p.m. Friday and March 1 at the Elks Lodge, 1105 Second Ave. The meal will be chicken cordon bleu on Friday and prime rib on March 1. Tickets are available at the Elks Club, Ax Photo, Hy-Vee and The Stag.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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