'Queen of Bingo' opens July 15

Article Published: Jul. 15, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Queen of Bingo' opens July 15

From left, actors Lara Marshall, Andrea Long and David Rogers rehearse the new Ensemble Stage comedy, The Queen of Bingo, opening this week.

Photo by Jeff Eason

On July 15, Blowing Rock's Ensemble Stage will open its first full-stage production, and Bingo is its name-o - The Queen of Bingo, to be exact.

Written by Jeanne Michels and Phyllis Murphy, Bingo is the tale of two sisters who live, breathe and play bingo. Babe plays for keeps, Sis plays for fun, and, after spending 40 years of their lives together, both play on each other's nerves.

Set in the basement of a Catholic Church, under the eye of Fr. Mac (Dave Rogers), the play opens with Babe (Lara Marshall) and Sis (Andrea Long) finding that their usual and, according to them, lucky seats have been taken by someone else.

One thing leads to another in a play that Ensemble artistic director Gary Smith calls hilarious, showcasing "the funny side of the die-hard bingo players and all their superstitions."

But all sides are what director Lisa Lamont studied while researching for the play. Lamont contacted a Blowing Rock resident who plays bingo religiously and joined her for a game in order to capture an authentic atmosphere for the stage.

"She had 40 cards in front of her and a dauber in each hand," Smith said. "As the (announcer) was calling, she was able to keep track of it all. She could sit there, do all that, and still carry on a normal conversation."

Audience members can even try for themselves. Just before intermission, they'll have a crack at a game of bingo, as part of the play, with Food Lion of Blowing Rock donating a frozen roasting chicken for the winner. "The script calls for a frozen turkey, but we'll give them a roasting chicken and let them stick it on a beer can," Smith said.

In keeping with the informality of the bingo hall atmosphere, audience members can also bring concessions into the auditorium, and Smith is seeking a nonprofit organization to volunteer and serve food, with the nonprofit keeping all the proceeds.

This goes back to Ensemble's philosophy of theater for the community. By contributing to the community at large, through camps, fundraisers and special events, the professional theater is accomplishing that goal on a regular basis. Productions are also suggested by patrons, but The Queen of Bingo is a special exception.

Ensemble had secured the rights to produce a full-stage version of Stephen King's Misery, but those rights were pulled when it was announced the play would possibly be performed exclusively on Broadway.

"But we wanted to do a comedy with audience participation anyway, so here we are," Smith said.

The Ensemble crew hosted an informal reading and, with Bingo's small cast and minimal setting, found it would be ideal for the company's fledgling budget.

"And it's been a lot of fun," Smith said. "It's kind of a unique situation for the actors, because there's so much going on - double-fisted daubing, playing bingo, while speaking dialogue and interacting. It's been a lot of work getting that to flow naturally, so it looks like they've been playing bingo for 30-some years."

The Queen of Bingo runs July 15, 16, 17, 20, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. each night, and as a matinee on July 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, senior citizens and military, and are available at http://www.ensemblestage.com or by calling (828) 406-2884.

All shows take place at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium, accessible off Sunset Drive in downtown Blowing Rock.

Founders Club
As Ensemble Stage continues to grow, the company seeks community assistance through its Founders Club.

With the Founders Club, the first 100 people to donate $100 or more will have their names engraved on a plaque to be prominently displayed at all Ensemble events, as well as on every program.

Further, depending on their donation, patrons will receive a laminated golden, silver or bronze ticket to be used for special discounts, previews, members-only events and more. And since Ensemble is a nonprofit organization, contributions are tax-deductible.

To keep track of Ensemble's goings-on, and for information on future productions, visit http://www.ensemblestage.com or call (828) 919-6196.

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