We Gotta Bingo! at The Hennepin Stages

Cast of We Gotta Bingo! - Handout photo

Environmental/audience participation musicals are a jam-packed field and it gets more crowded all the time: Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding, The Church Basement Ladies, A Deer Camp Christmas, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, et al. Audiences love them, though, and if We Gotta Bingo! (at Hennepin Stages in downtown Minneapolis, through Jan 31, a revival of the popular Actors Theatre of Minnesota show, www.hennepintheatretrust.org)  is an indication, the form is thriving. Outside the wind-chill was well below zero but in the theater everyone polka’d and bingo’d and partied and had a grand old time.

When you walk into Hennepin Stages you find yourself in Der Brew Ha Ha, a down-market joint rented for the evening by two R.C. churches: St. Patrick’s (Irish) and St. Dominic’s (Italian). The polka music is loud and happy (the band is led by accordionist Nancy Lovegrin Lewandoski, an ageless Minnesota treasure). The relentlessly cheerful cast directs you to your table, gives you your bingo sheets and urges you to patronize the two cash bars. Soon, Father Duncan (marvelously played by EJ Subkoviak – I could listen to his goony laugh all night) rises to give a speech, and the show starts.

We Gotta Bingo!‘s plot? Such as it is, it deals with the effort to combine the two parishes and the resulting and inevitable bitter rivalries. We get to know the characters: the spectacularly dysfunctional Diminis (Michael Paul Levin, Michelle Hutchinson and Andy Kraft, each one perfect), the sweet and mousey Moira O’Mahoney (Tina North, whose rousing take on “My Sweet Lord” is fabulous), the scatterbrained Sister Gigi (Ann Whiting, with her demure nun’s veil and shockingly short skirt), the dipsomaniacal bingo emcee Bucky Fuller, owner of Bucky’s Scratch And Dent Furniture, and his goofy but very sexy assistant Darla Blue (Eric Webster and Bonni Allen, both excellent – “Ball me, Darla,” asking for a bingo ball, sipping his ever-present cocktail). I wish I had room here to enthuse about the whole cast. Everyone is terrific and no one gives a condescending or mean-spirited performance (always a danger with material like this). The director, Mark Bergren, very likely deserves credit here.

And, oh yes, there is plenty of bingo playing (for lavish prizes), polka dancing (with the inescapable “Chicken Dance”) and some super-yummy church basement lasagna, served with bread, iceberg lettuce salad and, naturally, a plate of sugary bars.

Great art? No, but it is great fun. Bring some extra money (and a designated driver) for the cash bars. With this show a well-lubricated audience is a happy audience.


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