Theatre Review: ‘The Lottie and Bernice Show’ at Ghostlight Theatre

The cast of “The Lottie and Bernice Show.”

They’re back.

Along with their fronts, their sides and yes, their large bottoms.  Lottie and Bernice make a return to Ghostlight Theatre this month, fresh as ever, following their numerous appearances locally and elsewhere since 2001, when they first appeared in Ghostlight’s “Dance Macabre.”  This time, they are in the reproduction of “The Lottie and Bernice Show” for its 10-year anniversary.

. . . lands comic jabs over and over again with gusto. . .

Reprising their roles are Joann V. Mis (Lottie) and Debby Koszelak Swartz (Bernice) as the grumpy oldsters.  As the story goes, the pair are picked up on the street during a Western New York blizzard by a local television station’s assistant, Virgil.  None of the usual broadcasters were able to make it into the station. So Lottie and Bernice are enlisted with other amateurs to host the Buffalo Yak show.   It’s a sort of variety news/talk show with a decidedly local flavor.

Helped along by a couple of stagehand janitors, Hal and Sal (Don Swartz and Jesse Swartz) and the ambitious yet ability-challenged intern, Candy Bickle, played by Jenna Montesanti, the production must and does go on.  Hal and Sal help to host the editorial segments; Candy Bickle anchors the news desk. But it is, of course, Lottie and Bernice who steal the show.

They steal it everywhere, but mostly with their viewer call-in question segment, answering the phones with “Hello caller, what’s your beef?”  And even if the callers don’t really have a beef, Lottie and Bernice seem able to make one out of it. With every call this pair of cranky ladies spin some kind of worn and worldly wise wisdom that is, at times, outrageously funny and cranky derelict wit.  They make their own sense of the world, which never exactly matches any conventional wisdom. The world the way it is for them, and they way they’d like it to be.

Mis has some particularly high moments when, being challenged by a caller, she gets up from her chair and slowly walks to the front of the stage, peering into the invisible studio TV camera and directly chastising the caller.  You almost imagine watching on the television, as she peers into the lens. And when she and Koszelak Swartz start to grumbling and talking over one another about some matter of people or thing that they just don’t get, it’s uproariously funny.  

Jesse and Don Swartz have their moments as well, with their editorial subjects about the legitimacy of ten-bean salad, and the pitfalls of using bleach cleaning wipes on the most inappropriate body parts.  Characterization is everything, and these longtime Ghostlight alums come off as folks we know, or might like to, if we don’t already.

There’s a bit of everything here that might have ever been funny — pratfalls, pokes at the system, raucousness, politically incorrect references, with jabs at various public entities of Western New York living.  Almost nothing is off limits. It’s a production done with heart, without a mean or vicious bone in its body. Ghostlight Theatre and playwright L. Don Swartz, for their part, knows their audience. The nearly constant laughter coming from it supports them at nearly every turn.  Not every punchline is a knockout, but Swartz and Ghostlight know how to stay the course, so “The Lottie and Bernice Show” lands comic jabs over and over again with gusto.

Set staging is left, right, and center for editorials, news desk, and Lottie and Bernice.  Props are used to perfection, the lighting constant, the costumes entirely suitable. The players are all on point for a blizzard of comedy, laughter and mayhem.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one-15 minute intermission.

“The Lottie and Bernice Show” runs  through May 19, 2019.  For more information, click here.