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MacIvor lights up the board with boozy Bingo!

Robert Moloney and Ted Atherton in Bingo!

Dave McKnight/Dave McKnight

4 out of 4 stars

Achingly nostalgic, funny and wise, celebrated Nova Scotian playwright Daniel MacIvor's comedy Bingo! hit the jackpot at Winnipeg's Prairie Theatre Exchange on opening night (Oct. 13.).

A 30-year high-school reunion at a Cape Breton hotel draws five childhood friends together for a booze-drenched night of reminiscences, revelations and unrestrained barfing in the first full-run production of the play, directed by Vancouver's John Cooper.

Alpha male Doug "Dookie" Duke (Ted Atherton), a Halifax realtor, and nerd Paul "Nurk" Kenney (Jeffrey Renn), a Calgary-based engineer, are the returning sons. As the play opens to the strains of rocker Joe Walsh's Life's Been Good, they're knocking back liquor shots in Dookie's hotel room with party-hardy pal Jeff "Heffer" MacInnis (Robert Moloney), who has remained anchored in their hometown.

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Meanwhile, scrappy mail carrier Laura "Boots" Bouthier (Marina Stephenson Kerr) and waifish Kathy "Bitsy" Cameron (Miriam Smith) are cooling their heels in the hotel nightclub, acting casual while they scan the crowd for familiar faces.

When Bitsy suggests they give up and go home, Boots snaps, "We're not even drunk yet!" But that situation is quickly remedied after the improbably nicknamed quintet connect. Armed with a cooler full of beer and fresh trays of liquor shots from the bar, they indulge in a blast from the past in Dookie's room, rewinding ancient mix tapes along with memories of their shared youth, when every day was sun-drenched and their whole lives stretched out before them, ripe with possibility.

Now staring at 50 and convinced their best years are behind them, they cling to the past like shipwreck survivors grabbing at a lifeline.

Temporarily disconnected from adult concerns, they become childlike again, playful and careless and excruciatingly vulnerable.

MacIvor ( Marion Bridge, Cul-de-sac) imbues his characters with salty eloquence, and his script is in capable hands with this terrific cast.

Atherton has a relatively thankless role as bully Dookie, bravely displaying all of the smarm and none of the charm of his best-known TV characters. Moloney is a knockout as Heffer, brash and defiant until he spills his guts about a humiliating secret that exposes a painfully raw wound. And Stephenson Kerr gives a hilariously muscular performance as the quirky, uncompromising Boots.

Renn and Smith cut to the bittersweet heart of the fast-paced, two-hour comedy. Ditzy Bitsy doesn't have a clue that everybody knows a secret she's desperate to keep, but she eventually reveals she's wise about the deeper mysteries of life.

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And while Dookie plays the big shot, picking at Heffer's defensiveness over his lack of worldly knowledge, Nurk is generous. He admits the only thing he and Dookie know that Heffer doesn't is what it feels like to long for home.

It's fitting that Bitsy and Nurk have the weakest stomachs among this rowdy bunch. The play's title refers to a drinking game the male characters played as teens. The first one to puke was considered the winner because he could start over and drink more liquor.

After binging on nostalgia, some characters realize the glass is half full, and life still has more to offer. They just have to purge themselves of the past before they can drink it in.

Bingo!

  • Written by Daniel MacIvor
  • Directed by John Cooper
  • Starring Ted Atherton, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Robert Moloney, Jeffrey Renn, Miriam Smith
  • At the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg

Bingo! runs at Winnipeg's PTE until Oct. 30.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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