Bingo Extravaganza!

Bingo Extravaganza!
By Maripat Donovan, Kathryn Gallagher, and Mark Silvia
Westport Playhouse
Directed by Marc Silvia
Through November 6, 2005

Maripat Donovan brought her own version of “Catholic Cabaret” to St. Louis with the world debut of her latest production, Bingo Extravaganza! Donovan—who won over audiences in droves with her witty production of Late Nite Catechism—now takes the audience on a zany trip through the history of bingo.

Instead of using a single “sister” to educate the “publics” (kids who went to public school), Donovan expands the cast to include two “fathers” to help illustrate the dynamic history of how bingo was brought to America. Bingo, as you know, has been the workhorse ($90 million a week!) of Catholic fundraising committees, helping to raise millions of dollars for local churches and Catholic programs.

Enter the Playhouse, audience members are given three bingo cards. This brought a smile to my face: Donovan has found a way to bring together two of my favorite activities, bingo and theater. I actually asked out loud, “Are we really going to play bingo?” I was assured that, in addition to Bingo, there would be karaoke and sheet cake, as well. This is theater gone mad! How is it possible that Donovan can combine so much fun into one production?

Sister Mary Rita kicked off the show by welcoming us all to the bingo game and informing us she was waiting on the two “fathers” who were supposed to be helping her, Father Rotini and Father O’Reagan. However, both men were at a comedy class and should be attending shortly. When the men of the cloth finally appear, the show turns into a wild and crazy cabaret filled with entertaining musical numbers taking the audience on a journey of “Bingo Through the Ages.” The songs themselves were hysterical, but some of the lyrics proved to be quite the tongue twisters as the three actors sometimes struggled to keep up with the music.

After a short intermission, the audience was treated to what I thought was going to be three painful rounds of karaoke. I think Donovan put this element in just to add even more audience participation…if that were possible. At first I was looking for the bar, but I was pleasantly surprised when a couple of St. Louisans actually gave it their all. First up was Sherry who rocked the house with a rousing rendition of “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. This little lady proved to have a huge voice as she really went for it and made it her own. Up next was Corey, who entertained us with “The Banana Boat Song.” Both of these brave souls should be commended for their excellent performances. The show then wrapped up with a few rousing games of bingo (with awesome prizes!) and an informational section concerning pagan babies.

Each actor in Bingo Extravaganza! seemed to be perfectly cast for the role he or she played. Barbara Hunt was sinfully good as Sister Mary Rita. Hunt was as domineering and terse as the role needed to be. Her deadpan comedy served the troupe well, as the other two actors had the lion’s share of witty one-liners. Joe Taylor turned in a heart-warming performance as Father O’Reagan; his unique vocal delivery was unforgettable and engaging. Page Hearn shined in his role of Father Rotini, combining outstanding vocal and physical comedy to provide the evening’s most memorable performance.

While the show was a bit rough in some patches, the overall production proved once again that Maripat Donovan is a comedic force to be reckoned with. With Bingo Extravaganza!, she has created a hilarious script full of larger-than-life characters, inviting songs, and most importantly, sheet cake…mmmm, sheet cake.

The Westport Playhouse continues Maripat Donovan’s Bingo Extravaganza! through November 6. Showtimes are Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $32.50–35 and can be reserved by calling the box office at 314-468-7529.

-Jim Campbell 

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