When faced with the problem of how to write a play about war, playwright Merri Biechler opted for a sideways approach. Rather than write about bombs, she writes about bomb-builders. Instead of countries torn apart, she writes of a family that suffers a similar fate. In place of the “fog of war” she tackles the fog of memory. The resulting head-trip is titled “Babes, Bombs and Bingo,” and Mortar Theatre’s wild, winning production at Luna Central is a fittingly explosive affair.
The play’s central conceit lies where the subject of bombs intertwines with the subject of bingo. Expert bomb-builder Dennis (Richard Perez) has, himself, suffered from a recent bomb blast and now his consciousness is scrambled. As he attempts to sort through the rubble and piece together the whereabouts of his missing wife, Ellen (Stephanie Stroud), and daughter, Hannah (Erica Cruz Hernandez), he hits upon a bingo game as his method to impress order. Quite literally, the play’s 12 scenes from Dennis’s past are picked at random from an onstage bingo game. Dennis’s confusion is our own, as meaning is left open to the whims of chaos.
The cast members are wonderful in their roles. Perez has a tenderness that opens up what might otherwise be a cold, unsympathetic man, while Stroud embodies a Medea-like aura of wounded rage as his unhappy wife. Cruz Hernandez brings sweetness and intelligence to her role as Dennis’s perhaps too precocious daughter and Megan Tabaque is charmingly mysterious as Bingo Girl, Dennis’s pint-sized pixie of a guide through the labyrinth of his own mind.
Director Rachel Edwards Harviths walks the thin line between coherence and chaos and she walks it well. Under her steady hand, this show is exactly as confusing as it is meant to be. There is an consistent clarity that allows every moment, feeling, and thought to ring true. But she does not sacrifice the play’s crazed energy either. The absurd and the farcical are omnipresent, melting into melancholy at a moment’s notice. And the stage designs (sets and projections by Robert S. Kuhn and Michelle Underwood, lights by John Kelly) all add to the cracked, manic landscape of Dennis’s memory. Chaos may comprise the core of this play, but elegance is what’s at the heart of this production.