Saturday, May 10, 2014

A warm and funny BINGO! at The Factory Theatre ends the 13/14 Season

Last night,  I went with a friend of a similar vintage to see Daniel MacIvor's BINGO! about a 30 year high school graduating class reunion in a small town in Cape Breton.

Five former friends hook up for a booze-fueled weekend of shared reminisces, regression and regrets. As they approach 50, the reunion confronts them with both the depreciating amount of time left on their clocks, and the limitations aging is beginning to impose on their bodies, and their dreams.

The play starts off  in a hotel suite, with three guys from the class: Nurk, Doogie and Heffer playing bingo, a drinking game in which the first person to throw up, wins.

Doogie (David Keeley) is a big, good-looking, douchey ex-jock, a self-important bully, who sells real estate. Doogie flaunts his trappings of success:  his looks, his marriage to a trophy wife, two kids to brag about, though he prefers the boy to the girl, a job where he makes a lot of money, without much of an education, or getting his hands dirty.  There's trouble in paradise though:  Doogie is on the edge of being turfed from his marriage for lying, and, we suspect, cheating on his no longer impressed spouse.

Heffer (Dov Mikelson) is Doogie's side-kick, and punching bag: a short, slightly over-weight guy ,not smart enough to get into university, or motivated enough to leave his small town.  Heffer has taken the one down seat in every relationship he's ever had, including his marriage.

Nurk (nicely played by John Beale) is a smart, thoughtful guy who got an engineering degree, and a good job in Calgary, in unsexy waste management.  His marriage has recently ended in divorce.

Nurk wins the first round of bingo. Once the lads are loaded for bear, they head to the bar to find the girls, Boots (a terrific Jane Spidell) and Bitsy (the wonderful Sarah Dodd) who never married,and never left town.  Are they lesbians, or just unlucky in love?

High school reunions are about comparing your life against the lives of the people you grew up with. 
Did you win or lose?  Does it matter, and if it does, who and what determines what "winning" looks like, within the confines of that old school-room you left a long time ago?

As the girls stand around in the bar, waiting for the party to start, Boots, a forthright, crusty woman and career mail carrier tells her shy, underdog friend, Bitsy that she looks desperate because she's dancing alone.  "What if I am desperate?" Bitsy replies. 

There's a lot of this kind of smart, observational humour and some wonderful monologues.  Watch for the scene where the two women, neither wearing their glasses at the outset, try to see who's arrived at the party.  Hilarious.

Keeley and Mickelson pushed a bit hard for laughs off the top of the show but as they relaxed and joined the rest of the ensemble, the laughs became more intrinsic and less forced and all the other emotions evoked by MacIvor's script became apparent.

The night wears on, more shots and beers get downed, a cassette player and a bag of tapes comes out, defenses go down and we see and hear much more of the truth about the former classmates' lives.

BINGO! is a gentle, well-written and well-played light romantic comedy, capably directed by Factory co-artistic director Nigel Shawn-Williams. Williams makes great use of music from the period of this gang's youth to evoke all the feelings and memories that old music arouses for both the characters and the audience.

The unified set by Lindsay Anne Black is simultaneously a hotel suite, a boardwalk and a bar.  It clearly creates different playing spaces with the help of a good lighting design by Jennifer Lennon. The set made good use of the breadth of the stage but I did wish it had made better use of the soaring vault of the Factory.  Perhaps in a piece that is largely about failed hopes and diminished expectations, a lower ceiling was an artistic choice.

High school has been over for all of these people for a long time. What is left to hope for after 50?  Well that depends on how you've lived your life and what you're prepared to risk or change on the back nine of the game. MacIvor ends the play hopefully, at least for some of the characters.

In the program notes, MacIvor said he wrote this show for his brother back in Cape Breton.  He wanted to write an approachable piece that spoke to the working stiffs he grew up with.

He clearly knows these people and he paints them with his usual trenchant wit and clear eye but also with much empathy and affection. It's a kinder, gentler MacIvor than I'm used to, but I didn't mind that at all. As he said in ARIGATO TOKYO, "none of us are one thing." I hope his brother liked his present.  I certainly did.

Anyone over 40 who has ever endured one of these "homecoming" weekends - or avoided them like the plague, is bound to enjoy BINGO! The FACTORY is ending a turbulent season on a high note.

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