Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Hard-Worn Place of Mystery

Bingo. It's not just for grandmas anymore.

I did a double take when I saw the invitation to bingo at Gallery 5. Had bingo gotten cool when I wasn't looking? I knew they did RVA Pieces, a night of games like chess, but this was the first I'd heard of bingo, much less with the numbers being called by someone named Grandma Muriel.

Come on, how could I not go?

When I got there, a couple of duos were engrossed in chess matches, but on the stage side, two long tables were set up and a tall, skinny cross-dressing man in an orange peignoir, flowered head scarf and old lady mask was setting up effects pedals.

This was going to even better than I thought.

A few people straggled in as I told organizer Nick that I hadn't played bingo since I was a kid. "Really? I played last year in North Carolina," he said. "I look for bingo wherever I go."

With time to kill before the first number was called, I checked out Gallery 5's current show,"All the Saints Theater Company: A 10 Year Retrospective," featuring some of the puppets, sculpture and banners used by ATS over the years, including in their Halloween parades, of which I've been a part many times.

Giant sculptures made of recycled materials resembled elephants, lips and Poe while huge cloth banners carried in the parade had stronger messages, such as "How Much Longer?" with a picture of a soldier pointing a gun at a small child.

It was an exhibit of whimsy and message, like anything ATS does and I was happy to get to see it before it closes.

Then it was bingo time.

Grandma Muriel was totally into her role, crafting a complete experience with a hanging light (which she hit periodically to send it swinging eerily), a Halloween soundtrack and a microphone so she could call numbers and distort the words through the pedals for effect.

She seemed to especially like calling the letter "O" and letting it reverberate endlessly.

The wooden tokens with the numbers/letters on them were placed in a red bucket and she'd stick the mic in there as she shook them to get a rumbling reverb effect for each call.

There were only six of us for the first round, but with Grandma Muriel's full production on each call, it was slow going for us participants. "Bingo games are long, " the guy across from me said sadly and we were only on the first round.

We got two new players for round two ("This is way better than watching jujitsu," one observed) as Grandma Muriel got even more into it. "I think it's disturbing that someone would want to dress up and do this," one guy said, although not loud enough for Grandma Muriel to hear.

Things got a little competitive, with people looking over at other people's bingo cards to see how close they were to calling bingo and bemoaning when someone else won, but I think that's just the spirited nature of playing bingo. Isn't this why old ladies end up using the F-word in church basements?

There were prizes - tickets to the Comedy Coalition, to Gallery 5, a gift certificate to Bunny Hop bike shop - but the biggie was dinner for two at Max's and, as the organizer pointed out, not even a designated amount, just "dinner for two."

Yours truly won that, playing two cards for the first time in her life (the guy next to me was playing four) in a round that lasted far longer than the first three rounds had. Who knew bingo could be so suspenseful?

The final round was a cash prize and a guy who'd joined the table only for the last round won that, loudly and happily. Several of us asked when the next bingo game was (last Wednesday of the month is the plan, but it's just that since this was the first event) and if Grandma Muriel would be available for it.

And if not? "I've got a friend who does Stone Cold Steve Austin. I can see if he's available," Nick says. What could be more bingo-like than a wrestler, I ask you?

So I walked out of there five dollars poorer except that I also had a gift certificate for dinner, so not a bad way to laugh, watch some hilarious performance art by a man in drag and experience the thrill of filling your bingo card.

And thank goodness I was in a happy place when I left there because I almost got creamed in the middle of Broad Street.

I'm cruising along at the speed limit in the middle lane, and some VCU twit decides she's going to make an illegal U-turn at Harrison Street right in front of me, causing me to swerve and just barely avoid her. The best part? The cop in the lane next to me waiting to turn, who immediately put on his lights, caught up to her and nailed her.

Sometimes there is justice...and it's sweet to witness.

I was en route to Balliceaux to drink a housemade root beer and see the Sam Reed Syndicate, whom I'd never seen before.

As is so often the case, though, I'd seen several of the group's members in other configurations. Sam's the singer for Photosynthesizers, whom I've seen plenty, but I also recognized her keyboard player/producer, the amazing Devonne Harris, and the ubiquitous Mark Ingraham on trumpet.

Sam looked fabulous in a purple kimono belted low at the waist ("I'm all taped up here and I want to make sure I don't show anything") over black leggings, but with her dynamic singing style it wasn't long before she was hot as hell and pulled out a Japanese-looking fan with which to fan herself during and after songs.

At one point, she bemoaned having bothered to straighten her hair "on the most humid day of the Fall," but the truth was, no one cared about her hair when they were listening to that voice.

"I'm Sam Reed and this is the Sam Reed syndicate," she said by way of introduction. "A syndicate is a group who has a common goal and expectations. And I knew I could make music with these guys." And she did.

She's got such a powerful voice, which I knew, but not having heard her new album "This is Love," I hadn't had a feel for the sound of this band, which turned out to be pretty diverse. Sometimes the band  - guitar, bass, keys, trumpet, drums - was full-on funky and other times, more definitively rocking.

Telling us we'd recognize the next song, and that it was one she was known for on Thursday nights (karaoke, perhaps?), the band did a killer cover of "Maniac" from "Flashdance" and a couple of girls proceeded to dance to it almost appropriately.

They did an old Mark Ingraham song, another song she characterized as an experiment between her and Devonne and the funky "Astrobelt" before closing out their set, effectively ending my night.

All in all, it turned out way better than watching jujitsu.

No comments:

Post a Comment