The Hard Bargain Players have changed gears.
Concluding the company's season of intimate dramas is a lighthearted romp titled "The Queen of Bingo." The frothy concoction by Jeanne Michels and Phyllis Murphy isn't much of a play. Director Randy Tusing has stretched a one-act's worth of material into an evening of participatory theater, his cast skillfully blurring the line between the improvisational pre-show period and the scripted portion of the evening. That blurring is the most interesting part of the production. The play, despite being well performed, is mildly amusing at best.
The rustic outdoor amphitheatre at Hard Bargain Farm has been transformed into something resembling a parochial school multi-function room. Father "Mac" Muldoon (Jim Douds) greets arriving audience members and shepherds them to card tables and chairs set before the stage. The play's central characters are Sis (Kim Moore Bessler) and Babe (Angela Dion), middle-aged sisters who play bingo to stave off loneliness. The widowed Sis starts the game by putting her numerous good luck charms and bingo accoutrements in place, creating a kind of secular altar on the table. Babe, we soon learn, is similarly compulsive -- she routinely locks herself up at home and overeats.
The sisters' conversation as they play is alternately humdrum and psychologically revealing. Unfortunately for the audience, it's also rather mundane. The playwrights may be trying to say something about the universality of ordinary lives, but their characters' outpourings make for neither absorbing drama nor hearty laughs. Indeed, the play seems several rewrites shy of psychological depth.
Bessler is brisk and occasionally brusque as Sis, showing tenderness only when her sister falters. Dion displays a wider range of emotion as the less tightly controlled Babe. Both actors maintain an energetic pace; whether seated at their table on the stage or moving through the audience to the concession stand, their interaction seems genuine. Douds has perfected the bearing of a longtime parish priest, hovering over the players during what appears to be the highlight of his week.
The audience relates to the production as a social event rather than a theatrical one. Little wonder, since they participate in an actual bingo game along with the play's characters. (One lucky audience member even wins the game and gets to take home a frozen turkey presented by Father Mac.) Perhaps it should simply be said that "The Queen of Bingo" so perfectly limns real life that the trappings of drama are completely obscured.
"The Queen of Bingo," through Oct. 2. Performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The Amphitheatre at Hard Bargain Farm, 2001 Bryan Point Rd., Accokeek. $12; students and seniors, $10. 301-392-9901.