"We Gotta Bingo" Review - Hilarious and Wacky

On August 3, 2015, the press opening of “We Gotta Bingo”, directed by Ross Young  commenced at producer Bill Collins’ new venue, Chicago Theatre Works, 1113 W. Belmont, Chicago. This was a good choice for this interactive dinner theatre experience, which included music, dancing, food, (catered by Giordano’s), drinks and bingo- the space has previously held a number of restaurant/ bars.

 

Jessica Scott (Darla) and Merrick Robison (Bucky)

Mr. Collins has stated that it had been his “long- time dream” to introduce Chicago audiences to the hilarious and wacky cast of characters he created from his own experience. He grew up in Chicago and went to a Catholic school with a mix of Irish and Italian families. The premise of the performance is the imminent joining of two Chicago parishes, and a bingo night held at a German beer hall called “Der Brew Ha Ha” to raise money for the same.

  

Jerome R. Marzullo (Rudy) and Church-O-Meter

Certainly, there are many German restaurants, pubs and halls in Chicago, which would explain the choice of setting. However, it is more likely this choice was made because Collins went to college in and then settled in Minnesota, later cofounding Actors Theatre of Minnesota, where “We Gotta Bingo” was written and enjoyed a long run- there is a very large German population in the Twin Cities. The simulated (and real) German accents and allusions were very heavy and often difficult to understand, especially around the clashing of cutlery and very loud polka music.

  

Michael Tatar (Helmut), Jane Allyson-D’Arienzo (Rosa) and Gary Smiley (Fr. Duncan)

There was an opportunity here that was almost completely overlooked, that is, to celebrate the diversity of cultures here.  Instead, the piece relied to its detriment on broad stereotypes and mocking (and also, yes, self-mocking) humor, with particularly negative jokes about Italian-Americans. One character looked over his shoulder and muttered how he had wanted to “whack” somebody, but couldn't locate the man. I found this particularly unfunny, sitting, as I was, with my beloved Italian-American best friend, who was disappointed at the tone taken throughout the performance.

  

Full Cast with band from L-R: (Row One) Jessica Scott (Darla), Merrick Robison (Bucky), Sheila O’Connor( Franny), (Row 2) Gary Smiley (Fr. Duncan), Jerome R. Marzullo (Rudy), Mollie Rehner (Mollie Voekel), Michael Tatar (Helmut), Mazurka Wojciechowska (accordion), Michael Levin (drums) and Francis Condorf (bass). (Row 3) Mitch Conti (Jeremy), Tamara White (Moira), Ty Rood (Tyler), Jennifer Pompa (Mary Ed), Susan Wingerter (Sister Gigi), Riley McIlveen (Stephen)

Having said this, nobody could deny that the evening passed very quickly, and the experience really was a lot of fun. The cast, with their colorful and schmaltzy ethnic and otherwise corny costumes were very enthusiastic and succeeded at staying in character. The music was high- spirited, competently produced and virtually continuous as the participants kept the action moving around the large and comfortable space.  Also, the bingo games were all slightly unusual and actually exciting- everyone at my table really played to win!

  

Jerome R Marzullo (Rudy), Mitch Conti (Jeremy) and Jane Allyson-D’Arienzo (Rosa)

Another really enjoyable aspect was the dancing, and not just by the cast. More than a few of the audience members danced with each other, with the “parishioners”, and with the performers, who appeared to have a ball and effusively praised those who took to the floor. One joyful line dance actually made its way out the door of the theatre and a ways down the block before returning inside.

  

Riley McIlveen (Stephen), Sheila O’Connor (Franny), Michael Tatar (Helmut) and Mollie Rehner (Mollie Voekel) in Helmut’s Bingo Throne

 

There was a good deal of revelry and friendly kidding all around, including some staff-patron joking which was clearly invented on the spot.  Finally, the drinks were sizable and the food portions generous although not huge and quite tasty.

  

Sheila O’Connor (Franny), Mitch Conti (Jeremy) and Mollie Rehner (Mollie Voekel)

 

All in all, while this reviewer thinks that the most likely to be appreciative future audiences would be older members of Chicago's parishes that bear a similarity to the fictitious ones in the play, there is a wealth of such persons in Chicago to guarantee a long lasting run here.

 

For more information go to the WeGottaBingo website

 

Photos: Dan Rest

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