Game Play: Celebrating Video Games Onstage
Game Play, the festival that runs through the end of the month at the Brick Theater, is billed as “a celebration of video game performance art.” The plays and events explore the relationship between technology and its users and between players and their games. Offerings include an evening of social gaming, Rock Band karaoke for charity, tabletop role-playing night, and game-inspired theater pieces. Opening the first weekend of the festival on Saturday night were The Photo Album and Final Defenders, two plays that examine immersive user experiences—in very different ways.
The Photo Album, directed by Lisa Reinke and written and performed by The Story Gym, is an interactive piece in which every audience member becomes a participant. The premise is simple: Old photos have been discovered during the renovation of a house in Ditmas Park, and the audience is enlisted to uncover the stories behind the photos. Using the augmented-reality app Layar on a smartphone or tablet, participants scan individual photos for directions to an actor stationed somewhere in the theater. The actor recreates the history of the photo in a short scene, providing each participant the treat of being an audience of one—or in some cases, a second character in the scene.
Fourteen playwrights contributed monologues or mini-scenes to The Photo Album, so the pieces vary in style and tone. In one, actor Cara Wong explains the challenges of college dating for an Asian-American woman in Nebraska. (Wong’s performance has a fresh sense of immediacy that makes it one of the most convincing of the bunch.) Other characters include a party host, an 18-wheeler (yes, a personified truck), a murderer, and a palm reader.
The most interesting relationship of the piece is that of the actors to the audience. In these intimate, one-on-one performances with no fourth wall, the difference between actor and spectator is only that the former has memorized a script. They watch each other, and sometimes they perform together. This immersive experience feels more essential to the play than does the use of technology (in truth, the piece could succeed just as well, if not better, without the Layar app). However, as there’s nothing linking the different photos’ stories to each other, the app serves as a constant connection between the dimensions at play: space and time are suspended in isolated moments that hover within the photos and in the augmented reality above them.
Final Defenders, written by Patrick Storck and directed by Nicole Lee Aiossa and Justin Plowman, takes inspiration from the 1984 film The Last Starfighter, about a teenage gamer recruited to fight a battle in space. A campy comedy, the show spoofs video games through the decades with characters that are broadly drawn: the "tough girl” from the '50s, the tripping hippie from the '60s, and the ditzy '80s chick. A pair of game-designing aliens pluck the characters from their respective decades to help destroy an evil space queen. For all its cheesiness, the play is a goofy good time, and it’s clear that a fair amount of work went into Plowman’s sound design. Gaming enthusiasts will appreciate the old-school inside jokes (remember having to blow on a Nintendo cartridge to make it work?), and the evolution of video games over the last three decades is entertaining to reflect on—depending on the length of your digital-age attention span, that is.
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