Reality levels gamers by epic proportions
By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor
When you are right out of school and your world consists of video game playing, the daily objective is to score enough points to ‘level up’ to the next world to conquest. For the gamers in the Hippodrome Theater’s Leveling Up, life is measured by epic wins or epic failures.
It was real-life epic failures that were needed to snap these just-graduated, on-the-cusp-of-adulthood, video nerds into reality. By epic failure, I mean much more than just turning off the television.
Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufler has created a story about decision making, growing up, and life- changing awakening for three characters whom we immediately accept as friends, colleagues, or that young person we know who is unsure about life and is still finding him- or herself.
The Hippodrome Theater’s second play of 2014 transports you into a three-bedroom apartment where the only guiding light appears to be that emanating from a television. And that is fine with the three young roommates -- video gamers who stare at the TV endlessly, with a zombie-like existence for endless hours.
Recently finished with college, geeky gamer Ian (Brett Mack, image top), affable slacker Chuck (Daniel Schwab, image center) and handsome loser Zander (Josh Price, image right) spend 20 hours a day with their headsets on and their eyes glued to screens where mortal combat and “epic fails” are the norm. Zander’s compassionate girlfriend, Jeannie (Marissa Toogood, image left), is still in school and troubled that the trio seem adrift and satisfied with living in fantasy worlds.
Kudos to Ms. Toogood as Jeannie, a bright light of reality and liveliness in this dreary apartment with seemingly lifeless men. By deciding to skip grad school to “enter the real world of education” and interacting with people or by questioning Ian’s new job with the National Security Administration and whether he is deleting real people or not, Jeannie offers a sense of life, balance in this very unbalanced world. The Jeannie character was an interesting foil in the play moving the story forward by her interaction with the three digitized couch potatoes.
Chuck has the unremarkable job of dealing black jack at a Las Vegas Casino. He finds himself getting into reality video games with Jeannie and liking it, perhaps even being on the cusp of having a real-life relationship thanks to Jeannie
Zander is a serious player. He likes his video games with GIANT, epic wins. He continually puts himself into compromising situations with unrealistic expectations. Just like in life howver, outcomes seem to be unpredictable.
Ian is a game-playing phenom who has cracked the epic level so many times he is one of the best gamers in the world. This spectacularly epic achievement casts a dark cloud over the mundane lives of the shut-in gamers as they try to figure what’s next.
Interestingly, most the action in the play happens in the first scene. In reaction to arguments and pointed defensive statements, empathy quickly has you pulling for these adult wannabes to succeed and escape the bleak, alternative world of gaming.
But it’s not all day of the living dead: Fun occurs when Chuck and Jeannie get involved in a role playing video game that takes them to unexpected, marginally epic levels personal interaction in a crowded apartment living room.
Incredibly, the cast, staff, and crew of the Hippodrome make all this face-to-face interaction come to life with awesome lighting, professional sound, multiple game keypads, keyboards, controls, props, and excellent acting.
Hippodrome Artistic Director Lauren Caldwell once again has captured the world of an alternative existence perfectly. I recognized this apartment. I understood the blank faces, mindless stares of the characters as they witnessed yet another Epic Level explosion on the television screen.
There are many similarities between Leveling Up and last year’s popular Avenue Q. In ‘Q’, decision making and unqualified love were addressed by association through friendly television puppets. In both plays young adults are reluctant to face life’s real world challenges. There are questions floating around in both stories demanding grown up responses when reality hits the stage like an epic size ton of bricks.
That’s how we learn how differently people handle decisions. Whether it’s the warm fuzzies of your favorite imaginary friend or kicking the ass out of that nemesis in the game, everyone levels up or levels down to their own comfort level, Grasshopper.
So excuse me it’s time to go feed the cookie monster . . .
Leveling Up continues through March 16, The Hippodrome received an National Endowment for the Arts grant to produce this new work by award-winning playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer (author of Sirens and End Days) in partnership with UF’s Digital Worlds Institute. Follow this link for more Leveling Up information.