STAGE REVIEW : Dear Old Da Left in the Wake of 'Our Father'

An Irish wake is something unto itself. It might shock the non-Irish. It's a time for purging grudges and affections, a time for singing sad songs and settling old debts, for drinking oneself silly in the memory of the dear departed and generally having a rare old time.

The particular wake in Michael Stephens' bittersweet comedy "Our Father" brings together six Irish Protestant brothers to bid a not-so-fond farewell to dear old Da. They have an ax to grind. Maybe it's the one they always wanted to use on the old man, when he wasn't braining them with a frying pan or breaking brooms on them while they watched television. Or maybe it's the underlying affection they hate to show for a man they knew so little about and viewed from their six wide-ranging perspectives.

The back room at Gorky's Cafe in Hollywood passes favorably for the back room of the Irish pub where the wake, correctly, takes place, with the open coffin at one end and a beer can-littered bar at the other. The audience becomes the bereaved as the brothers take turns delivering their eulogies and finding the balance in their uneven memories of their father.

It's that balance, so sharply delineated in Ted J. Tobin's finely honed direction, that lights the bright glow emanating from this production. Stephens' writing is eccentric, vivid and searches out telling detail without spotlighting it. It is poetic and highly theatrical, and Tobin caresses its rhythms in his staging--rhythms alternately gentle and harsh and unexpected.

The six actors who become the brothers give a fine example of what ensemble acting is all about. The script is like a piece of music and that's how they play it. Andrew Davis is the solid, thoughtful Beaky; Stephen D. Faupel is Fats, whose nickname is self-explanatory; Larry G. Welch the volatile Psycho, who can never quite get his life together; Ken Ryan is the boozy Bones, who has to sober up so he can make it to his AA meeting; Richard Karn is the stammering Mumbles who hasn't the words to paint a picture of his Da but probably will try it with his brush; and Bartley Forsythe is the earringed youngest brother Oscar, whose distance in years from his father robs him of his brothers' fierceness.

"He was too small for a man his size," says Mumbles of the man who called his sons terrorists and communists. But they will never forget him--he was extraordinary and ordinary--and they will have their ale-flavored say about him.

In a little under an hour, "Our Father" gives a small glimpse, but a richly rewarding one, at the poetry and fire and emotional dichotomy of the Irish soul.

At 1716 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Saturdays & Sundays,7:30 p.m.; indefinitely. $10; information: (213) 463-6480.

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