Betsy Carmichael is a hoot.
Joey Bucheker has created a fully realized character in the old woman whose entire life has centered around Bingo. Betsy has a backstory she relates throughout the evening that begins in a church basement with her father calling Bingo, goes through her marriage to the late and apparently very vigorous George, and brings us finally to the glitzy, gaudy Bingo Palace in which we in the audience act as the Bingo players.
Mr. Bucheker, er Betsy, works the crowd like the pro s/he is, tells bawdy jokes, lets us all in on Bingo lingo, and generally is the most enthusiastic person in the room. Everything about her sparkles, from her glasses, to her laughter, to her goofy jokes. If you met her on the street, you would not question for a moment that this is a white-haired old woman who wears a lot of bling and makeup and loves to hear herself talk. Her jokes are never mean and you can feel that she really really really wants everyone to love Bingo as much as she does. She experiences it as a metaphor for sex and love and, to her, it is life itself.
Jerry Mosey is the Bingo caller, Chip, who is Betsy’s ex-brother-in-law. She got him in the divorce. He is a foil for her jokes and gets back at her by making faces behind her back during picture-taking with Bingo winners. Adam M. Wall and Corey Bieber are Betsy’s identical twin nieces, Margaret Mary and Mary Margaret. Both have long blond tresses and very large bosoms and use both, as well as come-hither looks, to seduce male audience members while they go about their duties as assistants to Betsy.
Audience members are encouraged to participate in this extravaganza of colored lights, troll dolls, a disco ball, a statue of the Virgin Mary (votive candles included), and many different iterations of Bingo games. All are given bingo cards and the winners receive prizes and a picture with Betsy herself. Unfortunately, in some places in the audience the lighting is insufficient and, as it is forbidden to use cellphones, some are unable to read the cards. Grave disappointment ensues.
As to the show itself, a production by O'Connell and Company, at well over two hours with intermission, it seems over-long, particularly given the material, which is sometimes rather worn. The blond and big-breast jokes are a bit tired, vaudeville having been gone for a long time now. And the production lagged at times. Direction, as well as co-writing with Mr. Bucheker, is by Mary Kate O’Connell, and while everyone plays their parts well, this show would benefit from being tighter.
However, the packed house was very enthusiastic on Opening Night, and the rest of the weekend performances are expected to have large audiences. Sunday is sold out.
There is not a serious moment in this goofy, corny, sometimes sweet evening, along with some bongos – that’s Bingo lingo for bad bingo, something I learned from Betsy Carmichael herself. She has a lot more to teach you about her very very favorite thing in the whole world and will do so through Sunday at Shea’s Smith Theatre.