Friday, May 04, 2012

THEATER: You Are In An Open Field

"Play the game," yells the actor (Steven French), dressed in his finest cryptic-old-man robes. "We are playing the game," replies Kevin (Kevin R. Free), taking a moment on the sofa-fort of Chris Dippel and Lauren Parrish's grungy basement set alongside his good buddies and fellow New York Neo-Futurists, Adam Smith and Marta Rainer. "Play the game right," insists the actor, looking to his ally, a faceless dancer in a white-body suit (Cherylynn Tsushima). It's an odd thing to insist on, of course, for You Are In An Open Field, a self-proclaimed "nerd-core" musical, takes its cues from adventure games of yore (while referencing all genres, from Metal Gear to Sonic the Hedgehog to Gauntlet), and while there's a "right" way to finish them, that's rarely the "fun" way to play them.

Except . . . in this case, the actor might actually be right: even after "failing" one of the three levels (acts) of this production and then rapping their way through a recap (rapcap) of their adventures to that point, even with a script in front of me, I'm still a little shaky on what exactly is being "played." There's nothing wrong with the energy on stage, with Adam powering through early difficulties with his microphone, Marta gamely dunking her head into a bucket of water, and Kevin performing a high-stakes dance routine, but the script itself seems slapped together. Sure, Adam wants to actually throw a hadouken, Kevin wants to fly, and Marta wants to breathe underwater (you know, without diving equipment), and yes, there's a loose structure to each level, which begins with the construction of their "fort," continues with a "boss fight" that destroys it, and concludes with the discovery of "treasure" that gives them new equipment. But the childhood memories and vignettes don't mesh well to these circumstances -- there's no throughline, and the speedy lyrics are often difficult to follow -- nor do a philosophy-spewing Teddy Ruxpin and Godot-obsessed sage help to situate it. (It's hard to tell if any of this is a consequence of the missing fourth Neo, Eevin Hartsough, having to leave the production so as to deliver a baby.)

That said, I've never had a definitively "bad" time at a Neo-Futurist show (The Soup Show and The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill are among the best of off-off-Broadway), and that streak remains unbroken, even if this production's not exactly racking up a high score. The music, composed and directed by Carl Riehl (and also performed by Scott Selig and Patrick Carmichael), is solid, catchy stuff -- especially their digital alteration/ode to Zork and accordion-fueled finale -- and Liliana Dirks-Goodman's video design is pixel-perfect in that old-school, 8-bit way. The production itself is filled with such individually, high-powered comic moments, from outrageous lines like "It's 2012 and I work my dick toad-stool-sized" to ideas like marrying the world or images like Kevin R. Free getting his Pac-Man on with a bunch of floating food-stuff (sound effects included). If it doesn't quite coalesce, well, as the show constantly reminds us, "Such is life."

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