Strange brew

‘Bye Bye Liv­er’ touts it­self as a ‘drink­ing play.’ It has sketches, songs and in­ter­act­ive games, but does the audi­ence get too looped to know if they’re hav­ing fun?

Paul King­ston

A little hu­mor, some of it blue. Mu­sic, some of it new. Some fun. Some games. Lots of booze.

If that’s a con­densed ver­sion of your ideal Sat­urday night, Bye Bye Liv­er: The Phil­adelphia Drink­ing Play might be the show for you.

The the­at­ric­al col­lec­tion of sketches, songs and audi­ence-par­ti­cip­a­tion games opens at 9 p.m. on Sat­urday in the 70-seat up­stairs room at Downey’s, Front and South streets.

The show’s audi­ence “isn’t the typ­ic­al theat­er­go­ing crowd,” said Josh Dunkin, dir­ect­or of theat­er op­er­a­tions for the Pub Theat­er Com­pany. But then, Bye Bye Liv­er isn’t typ­ic­al.

The show, cre­ated by Dunkin’s col­lege pal Byron Hat­field, is a mix of forms as well as snip­pets of mu­sic en­com­passing dif­fer­ent genres and dif­fer­ent times — a the­at­ric­al brew in­ten­ded for a small audi­ence.

“We like to keep it in­tim­ate,” Dunkin said. “The show works bet­ter when you feel you’re drink­ing with the act­ors.”

The char­ac­ters in this pro­duc­tion are meant to be very re­cog­niz­able. They’re the bar­room types many of us en­counter on our nights out. 

Bye Bye Liv­er is set in the fic­tion­al Frank’s Bar, and the bar­tender, por­trayed by act­ress Jordi Wal­len, guides the audi­ence through the night’s ce­re­mon­ies. The char­ac­ter, Dunkin said, is “every bar­tender you’ve ever known.”

North­east Philly res­id­ent Joel Gleiser por­trays a pi­ano play­er who adds back­ground mu­sic and also par­ti­cip­ates in the pro­ceed­ings. There is a serv­er, too, and four oth­er play­ers who keep the sketches lively.

One skit in­volves “the girl who shouldn’t drink li­quor,” Dunkin said. She’s OK with a beer or two, but noth­ing harder. This is ap­par­ent in per­son­al­ity al­ter­a­tions as the same con­ver­sa­tion is re­peated and the al­co­hol con­tent of the drinks  gets stronger.

The show’s mu­sic is from all over the place, Dunkin said, with a bit of something for every­body — songs that will be re­cog­nized so audi­ence mem­bers can sing with the cast.

Folks in the audi­ence also are en­cour­aged to par­ti­cip­ate in games. There are, for ex­ample, a ver­sion of Name That Tune and a match­mak­ing game.

People who are shy or just aren’t up to tak­ing part have noth­ing to worry about, Dunkin said. “We try to keep it user-friendly,” he ex­plained. “We don’t go after some­body to pick on them, and we’ve got­ten good at re­cog­niz­ing who wants to be in­volved or not.”

Dunkin and oth­er mem­bers of the pro­duc­tion com­pany have had lots of prac­tice. Philly is the sixth town to get a Bye Bye Liv­er pro­duc­tion, he said, and some ad­just­ments have been made.

When Dunkin and Hat­field, who went to col­lege to­geth­er at Middle Ten­ness­ee State Uni­versity near Nashville, opened their first show in Chica­go in 2006, per­form­ances star­ted at 11:30 p.m. and audi­ence mem­bers were al­lowed to bring their own bottles.

“People would come in with cases, and they would get hammered,” Dunkin said. “It was like the Wild West.”

Be­cause people im­bibe as they watch the show, Dunkin said, it was de­cided that an earli­er show time would be more prudent.

“It’s a bet­ter start for your even­ing,” he said.

In fact, the in­ter­act­ive audi­ence tends to turn up the  volume as the even­ing’s show pro­gresses, which makes the need for play­ers with strong vo­cal cords rather ob­vi­ous.

“We need boom­ing voices,” Dunkin said, not­ing that Wal­len, who plays the bar­tender, has “a voice to over­power the crowd.”

One of the games the per­formers play with the audi­ence re­quires two very good sports — a man and a wo­man who are single and don’t mind be­ing the cen­ter of at­ten­tion dur­ing a match­mak­ing game. They’re asked mul­tiple-choice ques­tions to see if they are com­pat­ible enough to date.

Have any mar­riages res­ul­ted from that?

“No, no mar­riages, al­though there might be a Bye Bye baby out there … or two,” Dunkin joked. “We re­serve the right to name the kids.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

Hello, Bye Bye …

Bye Bye Liv­er: The Phil­adelphia Drink­ing Play opens at 9 p.m. Sat­urday at Downey’s Bar and Res­taur­ant, 526 S. Front St.

Show length: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Per­form­ances: Every Sat­urday night. No clos­ing date has been set.

Tick­ets: $15 at the door

Web site: ByeBye­Liv­

Phone: 1-800-650-6449

You can reach at

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