Evan Enderle and Cooper Daniels in Bingo with the Indians
(© Joan Marcus)
Evan Enderle and Cooper Daniels in Bingo with the Indians
(© Joan Marcus)
Playwright/director Adam Rapp's Bingo with the Indians, currently at the Flea Theater, is filled with unpleasant characters, scatological language, and absurdist situations. These ingredients have served him well in previous works; but this time, despite some intense, finely acted moments Bingo never quite comes together.

Rapp's premise certainly seems ripe for comic exploration. A struggling New York City theater company travels to a small New Hampshire town in order to hold up a bingo game so that they can finance their latest theatrical project. The company's director, Dee (Jessica Pohly), used to live in the town, so she has the inside information necessary to pull off the caper. She's accompanied by leading man Stash (Cooper Daniels) and stage manager Wilson (Rob Yang).

The cheap motel in which they're staying (nicely realized by set designer John McDermott) belongs to a family Dee once knew, and 19-year-old Steve (Evan Enderle) recognizes her and stops by to talk. He has theatrical ambitions of his own, or is possibly simply just lonely and looking for any way out of his current life. Steve is the only sympathetic character Rapp has allowed within his play, and it's his journey that serves as the work's emotional core.

A scene between Wilson and Steve proves to be the high point of the script, as Wilson convinces the aspiring thespian to read a scene with him that requires Steve to take off his pants. The sexual power play that ensues is disturbing, thanks largely to Enderle's captivating and emotionally grounded performance. Yang is also terrific, providing just the right balance between friendliness and cold-hearted manipulation. Unfortunately, the remainder of the cast doesn't fare as well. The roles themselves are written as broadly one-dimensional, and the actors are unable to make them seem any more than that. Daniels does score extra points, however, for fully committing to an outrageous monologue about a "turd burglar."

The main problem, however, is that Rapp's satiric edge is blunted here. If his purpose was to send up the dysfunctional dynamics of Off-Off-Broadway theater companies, a different approach may have been more effective. The contemptible behavior and casual cruelty that the New York characters demonstrate in Bingo seems far too heavy-handed.

Still, Rapp's writing is often brilliant, with meaty dialogue and a quirky sense of humor. However, endings don't seem to be his strong point -- a problem which afflicted some of his prior works such as the recent American Sligo and the Pulitzer Prize finalist, Red Light Winter.

In Bingo, a "company fight call" forces confrontation in an inorganic manner, and a quasi-spiritual appearance by a chanting American Indian man (Ben Horner) -- hundreds of Abenaki Indians were bussed in for the bingo game -- is patronizing and somewhat offensive. Worse yet, it doesn't even deliver the emotional payoff that it should. The play's closing image is a strong one, but its impact is lessened by the substandard material that immediately precedes it.