Mortar’s ‘Bombs, Babes and Bingo’ makes an impact, but needs a clearer target

A bomb scientist, working for a deeply underground division of the US military, is struggling to put the pieces together from his fractured life. His latest experiment hasn’t gone exactly to plan, and the collateral damage is more than he can reconcile. His wife and daughter have gone missing … or have they abandoned him? Or has he abandoned them?

BINGO! (?)

Merri Biechler’s decidedly fragmented play, Bombs, Babes and Bingo, asks a lot of the audience. Each night the show is different because bingo balls drawn at random (as is usually the case when drawing bingo balls) determine the order of events. (BTW: if you guess the play’s order, you could win $100!) So, you are left with a grab bag of smartly written scenes — some just flashes of a moment and some compellingly constructed vignettes — that require you to put the pieces together to tell a cohesive story about how this man’s unconventional and dysfunctional life has detonated in front of him.

I know for me it took about two-thirds of the way into this 70 minute show before I had my “a-ha!” moment, and figured out where all of it was going (and how all the preceding pieces fit together).

The play’s unique construction certainly elevates the concept of deliberate chaos that, I’m assuming, bomb scientists grapple with. And Mortar Theatre’s four-person cast (Richard Perez, Stephanie Stroud, Erica Cruz Hernandez and Megan Tabaque), under the direction of Rachel Edward Harvith, commits to the challenge with gritty determination. However, the concept, while intriguing on paper, needs more risk. I craved chaos — a “choose your own adventure” play, as it were, where some stories are left untold. Would could have been? Here, we get the full play, just jumbled up. While this proves a great challenge for the lighting and projection designs (which are both remarkably achieved by John Kelly and Michelle Underwood, respectively), for the audience, we’re more concerned with connecting the pieces than connecting with the story. At least this was my experience.

At any rate, I’ve never seen anything quite like Bombs, Babes and Bingo, and the boundary-pushing Mortar continues to demonstrate why they are a force to be reckoned with in the Chicago theatre scene.

“Bombs, Babes and Bingo” plays through June 17 at Luna Central, 3914 N. Clark Ave., Chicago, IL More info here >

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