THEATER | "Bye Bye Liver" puts a humorous twist on a night of drinking

Alyssa Szarkowski, Adam Qualls, Mike Rylander, and Michael Venske in Bye Bye Liver. Photo courtesy Actor's Theatre.

Let's admit it, not everyone is a theater junkie. Sometimes I can't even convince my closest friends to attend a show with me, not even for free. Other times, I'd rather just go and enjoy a show by myself than even try to convince someone else that he or she might enjoy it. At the Hennepin Stages Theatre, Bye Bye Liver hits the sweet spot in terms of entertainment for novice (adult) theater attendees, making it a show you can bring even your most stubbornly theater-resistant friends to.

Bye Bye Liver, also known as The Twin Cities' Drinking Play, is a mixture of sketch comedy and interactive drinking games providing a humorous perspective on events that can result from a night of drinking. Presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust and the Actor's Theatre, the play—which is really more of an event than a show—opened recently in front of its first Minnesota audience; it currently has productions running in Chicago and Milwaukee. The action takes place at the fictitious Frank's Bar, where our bartender Mike (Mike Rylander) walks us through various scenarios he's seen occur too often to count. Rylander's experience as a local personality and bartender, combined with his charming looks and pearly whites, make him the perfect emcee for the night. He's the type of bartender you couldn't help but spill a few secrets to.

bye bye liver, presented through july 31 at hennepin stages theatre. for information and tickets ($19.50), see hennepintheatretrust.org.

Over the course of the evening, audience members (who must be 21 to attend) are encouraged to drink and partake in socials while some all-too-familiar scenes are explored onstage, including catty bathroom conversations and re-meeting a drunk hookup for what seems like the first time. A memorable scene (exactly how memorable may depend on how much you've consumed by this point) focuses on a couple who have been together three years without an engagement. Of course, the more alcohol our buddy Mike gives the wannabe bride (Keri Bunkers), the more outrageous the scene gets. Mixed in with the scenes on stage, the audience is invited to participate in drinking games, including Never Have I Ever and Would You Rather.

While the play makes light of various drunken scenarios—offering the audience some comfort regarding their own embarrassing experiences—it never addresses the dangers of alcohol consumption. That's obviously not the point of this fun show, but I do have to wonder if I'd be as smitten with the show if I personally knew someone with alcohol-related problems beyond the occasional awkward conversation or regrettable embrace. If anything, the show would probably do well to include some sort of "don't try this at home" preface. For a show that actively encourages drinking, it was surprising there wasn't even an announcement reminding attendees not to drink and drive, or any mention whatsoever of negative ramifications other than hangovers and mild embarrassment.

Still, the cast of five—also including Adam Qualls, Alyssa Szarkowski and Michael Venske—do a great job of not mocking the drunk, but rather reveling in the familiarity of certain drunken scenarios. Major props go to Qualls, who portrays a man who only becomes attractive through beer goggles and appears twice in later scenes wearing a dress.

After the price of admission—which doesn't include beverages—and multiple trips to the bar, it may be that a similar experience could be had more cheaply by simply going to Cowboy Slim's and watching the inebriated parade go by. Yet there was something about having these well-known scenarios portrayed onstage that brought strangers in the audience together. There was a guilty sense of comfort in knowing that others had shared similar experiences. Bye Bye Liver isn't highbrow theater, but it's a worthy option for those looking to shake up the weekend.

Disclosure: I'm on the board of The Scene, Hennepin Theatre Trust's new group for young professionals—though it's more likely that this review was influenced by the drinks I enjoyed during the show than by my role in that organization.