Play along with this play

Rowan Joseph has worked alongside actors such as Kevin Spacey, Helen Mirren and Katharine Hepburn. Shane Partlow has trod the boards for decades and appeared in plenty of films and television programs.

Yet they’re coming to town to share the stage with a 10-pound frozen turkey – and having the time of their lives.

“The Queen of Bingo,” a play by Jeanne Michels and Phyllis Murphy, gives the friends a chance for some frivolity and fun.

They roll out the touring show several times a month across the United States and will perform at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen March 9 and 10.

Joseph plays Babe, a 50-something woman who starts playing bingo to spice up her life. Partlow is Sis, Babe’s younger, wiser sister. The play is a lighthearted look at family, dieting, widowhood and dating, hot flashes and, of course, getting a winning card at bingo.

And yes, these are men playing middle-aged women, in a performance that critics have compared to the tradition of Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.

“We don’t camp it up,” said Partlow. “We play it very, very real. And at every performance there’s someone who comes up to us afterwards and goes, ‘gosh, I didn’t know you were men.’”

Joseph calls the sisters’ relationship heartwarming. “They’re wonderful characters, and it feels fresh every time we perform it.” He directed the show off-Broadway in New York and in Chicago before taking on the role of Babe.

“I’ve had a chance to see clips of the show and it looks like a lot of fun,” said Richard Koch, Performing Arts Manager at CACGA and a local professional actor. “Any time you can get a couple of guys to successfully portray a couple of women, who happen to be hilarious, bingo-aficionado sisters, it’s guaranteed to be a great time.”

Joseph and Partlow both are accomplished actors with serious chops and extensive backgrounds on stage and as producers.

“During the weekdays, we do TV and film,” said Joseph. “Shane just did a movie with Tyler Perry that will be out this fall. I just shot a film with Will Ferrell that will also be out this fall.

“Weekends, we fly around and do [“The Queen of Bingo”]. It’s fun; people see us in the play and then they see us on Gilmore Girls or somewhere.”

Part of the fun of the play is the interaction with the audience. There’s a rousing audience game of bingo, the “Middle Bird Special,” where one lucky participant wins the aforementioned turkey.

“We’ve probably given away over 20,000 pounds of turkey during our career,” noted Partlow.

They don’t travel with the turkeys, though; those are procured from each place they go. Another task upon arrival is to find a place to play bingo, which they really do enjoy.

It’s not hard to find a place, said Partlow, noting that the website has listings of local bingo games.

“You’d be surprised,” said Joseph. “There are actually more people who play bingo in the United States in one year than attend all major league baseball, all NFL football, all NHL hockey, all NBA basketball, all NASCAR and all thoroughbred racing combined.”

If you go:

What: “The Queen of Bingo”

Where: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road.

When: Performances begin at 7 p.m. Fri, Mar. 9 and Sat, Mar. 10.

Admission: $25.

Details: Call 261-ARTS (2787).
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