Nova Scotia Theatre. Nova Scotia Play. Nova Scotia Cast. Bingo!

emmy alcorn & heather rankin

photo by timothy richard

Tonight I was so proud to witness a historical moment at Neptune Theatre, the Opening of the first Daniel MacIvor play to grace the Fountain Hall Main Stage, the co-production of Mulgrave Road Theatre’s Bingo. A well overdue and momentous occasion, as MacIvor said in a recent interview for The Chronicle Herald, “There was a period of time when it was rare to see even an actor from here on stage. [In Bingo] we have a Nova Scotia theatre doing a Nova Scotia play set in Nova Scotia with all East Coast artists and I think that’s exciting.”It is wonderfully exciting, and once again I find myself thinking that if this moment is an indication of the direction of the future for the next 50 years for our regional theatre we are a lucky theatre community and a lucky city indeed.

Bingo! tells the story of five friends whose lives are all irrevocably connected by their shared past, who come together for their thirty year High School reunion in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Rooted ardently in the concept of home, and how a small town can sometimes seem to stifle the growth of its residents, Bingo! is filled with lots of humour, a strong dose of heart and five incredibly rich and multifaceted characters whose interactions with one another are both familiar and irresistible.

On the surface, Bingo! seems like a simple summer stock comedy that uses specific details from a particular time (1982) and place (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) to appeal especially to a certain generation and a certain experience regarding both the coming of age, and revisiting those memories from thirty years away. Yet, what sets Bingo! apart is, of course, Daniel MacIvor’s writing. He plays a lot with speech rhythms in this play, in a nice mixture of slight regional dialect and giving each character their own distinct speech pattern, without any of it seeming at all contrived or manipulative. The result, when the five voices collide, is poetic realism. The humour in the play is quite incessant and MacIvor finds a great balance between offering his characteristic smart and crisp wit within a story that I am sure will find mass appeal with audiences. Bingo! is a local story that never feels hokey, it has a freshness that delves far beyond stereotypes and allows for its characters to be complex and fascinating whilst still keeping the comedy intact and engaging the heart. In my opinion, this is precisely what all comedies should seek to do.

John Beale plays Paul, or “Nurk” as he was known in High School, a diplomatic and sometimes sheepish Environmental Engineer who has moved from Sydney to Calgary. Beale roots himself firmly in the audience’s heart from his Opening monologue and endears himself further once his acute awkward shyness with the ladies is revealed and then he becomes one of the play’s reluctant heroes. Emmy Alcorn plays Boots, a tough minded cat lover who finds relationships a challenge because she thinks everyone else is an idiot. The sheer power of Alcorn’s presence is impressive and her performance manages to be simultaneously assertive and subtle to perfect effect. Marty Burt plays Dougie Duke, otherwise known as “Dookie,” who is the classic bully. Burt creates a true villain here that audiences will love to hate and they will likely delight in the Schadenfreude that comes near the end of the play. It is fascinating to watch how calculated Dookie’s actions are, especially in the subtle way that he controls his friend Heffer. Burt gives a nuanced performance where Dookie’s insecurities only peak through in glimmers, especially in his interactions with Nurk, who clearly triggers his repressed inferiority complex.

Ryan Rogerson plays “Heffer” (Jeff), Dookie’s best friend, who still acts like a teenager, but is also harbouring an intense secret, with such ease it is easy to forget that he is acting. His comic timing is sharp, especially in the delivery of his signature “Shaddup!” and he spends the entire play continuously coming out and then retreating back into his shell without drawing any attention to it. There is a beautiful collaboration of brilliance in Heffer’s dialogue as Rogerson and MacIvor are able to convey so much in lines like, “Yeah. Yeah. No. Really, Really, Yeah. No.” Just when you think Rogerson is all overgrown fourteen year old goofball he pulls the rug out from underneath of you with a beautifully earnest confession to Boots that certainly tugs on the heartstrings. Heather Rankin plays Boots’ best friend, Bitsy (Kathy Cameron), whose fear of the future has left her a little emotionally stunted and stuck in an existence defined by others where opportunities for growth and change have continually passed her by. Rankin is the comic genius of Bingo!, from Bitsy’s squeaky, and often confused, voice, her wide, naive eyes and her hilarious physicality that oscillates between nearly painful awkwardness to natural sexiness and back again within a blink of the eye. Bitsy’s awakening, like the anticipated unfurling of a butterfly, is always on the precipice but Rankin ensures that we are only ever given a glimpse of the woman beneath the girl. Yet, she also infuses Bitsy, a character who could be written off as a stereotypical ditzy small town girl, with a great deal of heart and even a little introspective wisdom.

Daniel MacIvor is a master at giving his characters hilarious things to say, humour is intrinsic to even his saddest plays, but Bingo! gives him the refreshing opportunity to explore some good old fashioned silliness as a director and he does so with panache, with the help of this gifted ensemble. Some of the funniest moments of this show exist in silences, one centering on a sing-along to “It’s Sad to Belong” that fades off, literally, into a stage full of hysterical facial expressions and one concerning John Beale’s Nurk, a cassette tape and a pencil. MacIvor’s sense of comic timing here is meticulous and fun.

The “Bingo” of the title refers to a convoluted drinking game that Dookie, Paul and Heffer played in High School, and the word “Bingo!” is meant to express the joy of winning or of something triumphant and that’s likely exactly how you will feel as you walk out the doors of the theatre after seeing this show.

The Neptune Theatre presentation of the Mulgrave Road Production of Bingo plays at Neptune’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street) until November 4th, 2012. Tickets from $20.00 to $51.00. Performances Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm. Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. To purchase tickets please visit the Neptune Box Office at 1593 Argyle Street, phone 902.429.7070 or go online to http://www.neptunetheatre.com

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