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Bingo: A Night With The Girls

Free popcorn when you walk in, free cake when you leave and free chances to win cash prizes of up to five bucks during the performance. I'm lovin' this show already!

The worst storm of the century is blowing through town. Torrential rain is flooding the roads and the hurricane winds are blowing the neighbor's trailer home across the sky like it's heading straight for Oz. But hey! You can't miss Double Pot Night at the bingo hall. The big prize is $200! Cash! So Vern, Patsy and Honey (Liz McCartney, Janet Metz and Liz Larsen) slip on their slickers and rush out to meet the gang at the church basement, because nothing stands in the way of girls night out.

There's a certain, and I mean this in a very positive way, community theatre quality to director Thomas Caruso's production of Bingo (book by Michael Heitzman and Ilene Reid, music and lyrics by Heitzman, Reid and David Holcenberg). The cast is loaded with terrific musical comedy performers, but the fun of the show comes from strictly amateur hour theatrics. This isn't a bad thing. The unprofessional quality of the show is very professionally presented. Bingo is defiantly unsophisticated, with the ladies (plus one hunky gentleman) blurting out corny jokes with nary a wink, playing the audience participation with grave seriousness and belting each catchy tune to the back of the house like Irving Berlin just penned a new score for them to sing. It ain't art... it's Bingo! And it's high-spirited, blue-collar, working class, tough as nails, good clean fun.

There's a plot, but I don't think the authors meant for us to be overly concerned with it. Something about a controversial Bingo result from years ago which split up a friendship as soon as the final call of B4 (Oooooo, symbolism!) was announced. (Vern describes the argument as, "She said some things and I said some things. Of course, my things were more clever and acerbic.") And I suppose if you insist on digging deeply for a message you can say how the dramatic content cries out for us to remember not to let petty differences separate us from the ones we love, but trying to make sense of the show will only give you a headache. Just kick back and enjoy the inspired silliness.

The cast plays familiar roles that can easily be completely defined in one sentence. McCartney is the bossy leader of the pack who has a soft side; but pity the audience member who dares to sit in her usual chair. Larsen is the ditzy town trollop with a heart of gold and Metz is obsessed with superstitions and good-luck charms that can improve her chances of winning. Klea Blackhurst pulls double duty as both an estranged pal and an unbearably British amateur thespian. The four wonderful ladies play their merry antics with pizazz and fill the room with powerhouse musical comedy vocals on cue.

Add to the mix a young actress with a secret background (Beth Malone) who will soon be off to New York to understudy the role of Nurse Ratched in an off-off Broadway musical version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. For no good reason other than someone delivers the cue line, "Hey, would you sing us something from the show?", Malone delivers a wildly pseudo-dramatic, Evita-ish showstopper called, of course, "Ratched's Lament."

 Running the evening's festivities is the adorable Chevi Colton as the game's operator and Patrick Ryan Sullivan as the flashy-smiling Sam, who calls out the numbers and is the most recent heart-throb for Honey. Together, they have a sweetly silly waltz ballad called, of course, "Gentleman Caller."

Eric Renschler's set is dominated by a huge Bingo board, lit by John Viesta to demonstrate all the various variations to the game, such as "the champagne glass", "the big HI" and "the little hi". Carol Brys' costumes strike the right balance between realistic and cartoonish and Lisa Stevens' choreography is appropriately simple, but delivered with high energy.

Long after its off-Broadway run is completed, I suspect Bingo's real popularity will come when community theatres start getting a hold of this one; especially those with lots of talented women who are looking for a fresh alternative to the ever-popular Nunsense. But until the day this one can be seen in your local church basement, we've got a rip-roaring cast having a grand old time in the basement of St. Luke's Church.

 

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Liz McCartney
Center: Liz Larsen and Janet Metz
Bottom: Patrick Ryan Sullivan and Liz Larsen

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From This Author Michael Dale