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Audience to be part of play opening this Friday

People who enjoyed the interaction between actors and audience found in "Tony and Tina's Wedding," a long-running play at Minneapolis' Hey City Theater, will want to attend the next attraction at the Ames Old School Dinner Theater in Ellsworth, Rebecca Swenson believes.

Swenson's the assistant director of "Finnegan's Farewell," the story of an Irishman's funeral, she said Friday. The audience will be guests who are mourners at the wake of "Paddy Finnegan" and will be issued black arm bands. The dinner theater meal will be part of the proceedings and cast members will sit in with the audience.

"We picked this one because we thought it would be a good show to do," said the Spring Valley Stagehands veteran, playing a "floosie" in the local production besides helping direct it.

"Finnegan's" opens at the theater in the former local junior high school this Friday for performances at 7 p.m. that evening along with this Saturday, plus Friday and Saturday, April 28 and 29. There will be 1 p.m. shows this Sunday and Sunday, April 30.

The approximately 20-member cast, including a DJ and musicians, features "raw talent" from Elmwood, River Falls and other area communities as well as Ellsworth, Swenson said. Many haven't been on stage before and are in the process of learning such antics as stage falls. They portray "contrary" characters, like a snob, a prude, a mama's boy and the deceased's wife.

"There's a lot of fights," she said.

The script is relatively short, with much of the content relying on improvisation, she said. The first act, when the funeral's held, is more scripted, involving speaking parts by "Sister Mary Agnes" and various family members. The second act is highlighted by singing and cast members bringing people up from the audience.

Auditions were held in late February, Swenson said. The nearly three-hour long show has been in rehearsal without the meal (the actors pretend the audience is going to and from the buffet line) and dress rehearsals were planned for this week.

Corned beef and cabbage will be the main entrée on the all-you-can-eat buffet, in honor of the play's Irish theme, she said. There will also be sirloin beef tips, chicken and assorted sides, salad bar, dinner rolls, desserts and non-alcoholic beverages. Wine, beer and coolers will be available for purchase.

Tickets are available for $25 in advance and $30 at the door; for more information, phone 273-6448 or 273-6449.

Swenson said she'll also help stage "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," coming to the Ames in July. She enjoys doing plays with children's casts, getting them to participate at all levels. Auditions for this cast, ages 12-18, will be held Tuesday-Thursday, May 30-June 1.

Theater meetings will begin Monday, May 8, she said. Organizers are looking for people to assist with behind-the-scenes roles like directing. Those interested are invited to sit in.