Flanagan's Wake and The Baritones, Noble Fool Theater Company. The seven-year-old Flanagan's Wake is still a fresh, silly carnival of a show, powered by a warm cast and the audience's goodwill. Partly scripted and partly improvised, this parody of an Irish wake--complete with dancing, drinking, and fighting--asks audience members to say how Flanagan died (in the show I saw, he drowned in a vat of beer), tell what his hobby was, and provide other details. But unlike most improv shows, it also involves the audience later, encouraging a rousing rendition of "Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral" and convincing a few brave souls to sing "Danny Boy" and dance a jig onstage.
Among the characters are Fiona Finn (Jean Winkler), Flanagan's fiancee of 30 years, who humps his coffin; her pugilistic brother Mickey Finn (Mickey Houlahan); a humorously incomprehensible matriarch (Brendan Kelly in drag); and a boxing priest (Mark Czoske). All mingle with the audience before the show and during intermission--and all seem to be having such a good time that even when the improvisations are uninspired, laughter reigns.
The same cannot be said of the company's late-night show, a parody of the hit Mafia series The Sopranos. But the night I attended was Noble Fool's first at their temporary home on Randolph, so the show's flatness and technical glitches might be attributable to the unfamiliar space.
Fully improvised, The Baritones takes only two audience suggestions, working them into an episode peppered, like the original, with four-letter words. And like its inspiration, this show works best when contrasting the Baritones' troubled home life with the business of murder and extortion. But the scenes are so short that most end before the actors have found their groove. Only Tim Schueneman and Lynda Shadrake manage to be consistently funny and responsive, though Jack Bronis as Tony has several bright spots, especially when he lets the audience see his mind working. Sopranos fans should get a kick out of the cast's mob poses and plays on the original, but wise guys will stick to the more entertaining Flanagan's Wake.