Ted Atherton as Dookie in PTE play Bingo! (David McKnight)
"Winners" and "losers," cool kids and not... in the world of master Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor, it's not always obvious who's who. But figuring that out makes for thought-provoking entertainment in Prairie Theatre Exchange's production of his comedy Bingo!
When five high school friends gather in their East Coast hometown for a 30th high school reunion, old habits resurface - including a lot of ribbing (both good-natured and not), a lapse into referring to everyone by a nickname, and a drinking game called "bingo", where the "winner" is the first person to toss his or her cookies.
The deceptively simple premise allows for the fun of watching middle-aged men and women regress to the state of awkward boys and girls, all set to a fabulous retro soundtrack. And there are plenty of good laughs here - from the twisted "how much older do you look?" math of high school reunions, to the cringe-worthy joy of watching sweetly innocent Bitsy (Miriam Smith) become a gawky kid trying to look cool on the dance floor again.
But the sweetness here is tinged with bitterness - as nerd-done-okay Nurk (Jeffrey Renn) says, the quintet is haunted by their memories of the time when "Anything was possible. Everything was ahead of us. We were friends."
The laughs, too, are laced with smart reflection on what it means to grow older, to play the game of searching for happiness, and to not always win at it. Dookie (Ted Atherton), the alpha male of the group, seems to be the most successful of the bunch - but his first phone call home to his wife suggests trouble in paradise. Nurk's marriage has disintegrated, Bitsy is trying to hide a shameful secret, Heffer (Robert Moloney) goes to desperate lengths to hold his marriage together, and Boots (Marina Stephenson Kerr) finds her "little bit of happy" in things as mundane as the long-lasting rubber bands she scores working at the post office.
This could all easily descend into melancholic nostalgia, but the great success in MacIvor's script is that it engages with characters who are never caricatures, and who continually surprise us. Under John Cooper's smooth direction, the five-person cast all give rock solid performances, and deliver both comedy and pathos with style.
MacIvor's script offers laughs, meat to chew on, and a relatable reflection on how our past shapes our present. The real winner in this round of Bingo! is the audience.
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer