Games – Review

Games

L  to R Geoff Pounsett, Richard Lee Hsi, Daniel Maslany. Photo Brian Harder.

Games – Who Wants To Play?

March 7 – April 5, 2014

Martha Cohen Theatre

http://www.atplive.com/2013-2014-Season/Games/index.html

Everyone is playing some kind of game in Linda Griffiths new zeitgeisty play, Games – Who Wants to Play? Mom Marion (Kate Newby) is playing the cool parent, when really she wants her son Zach (Daniel Maslany) to go back to being the sweet little boy she once knew. Dad Dan (Geoffrey Pounsett) plays the disciplinarian when in fact he wants the underage Zach to drink while watching hockey with him. Zach’s friend Micky (Richard Lee Hsi) flexes his muscles as a confident kid but really he’s ashamed of his immigrant family and is looking for surrogate parents to befriend. But it’s Zack’s kind of play as a basement-dwelling, video game obsessed teenager that Griffiths is the most interested in as she explores the impact and possible dangers of gamer culture on a family.

Sharply directed by Amiel Gladstone, Games, opens with the news that one of Zach’s gamer friends, Michael Ferguson, has been found dead. In a manner that could have easily come from one of the violent virtual reality games that Zach enjoys, Michael has fallen into a gorge and been eaten by wild animals. According to Marion, this was all set into motion when Michael’s parents forbade him to game any longer. Zach will later reveal that he believes differently, but regardless of what really happened to propel Michael into the gorge, one thing is certain,- Zach’s parents are at once concerned about the amount of time Zach is spending gaming yet afraid to do anything about it. That is until Marion lets slip to Dan that Zach is failing all his classes. The resulting ban on video games launches Zach’s behaviour in several different directions that at once confirm his parent’s fears of the negative impact of gaming yet also shows that the only evil in gaming is people’s fear of it.

By giving us this ambiguous ending to the play, Griffiths smartly leaves the audience asking questions without succumbing to the preachy tropes so often found in issue plays. In fact the takeaway from Games is not so much what happens in the end, but rather what takes place along the way. Here Griffiths, supported visually by Gladstone’s simple yet effective staging, gives us scene after scene of dilemmas to work through.

The wonderful gaming moments with Zach and Micky (played with genuine teenage posturing and insecurity by Maslany and Hsi) have us asking if brutal video game violence is harming the boys or is it simply the new tribalism by which young men bond and establish themselves. Conversely, when faced with Zach’s parents’ less than stellar behaviour which includes Zach’s mom flirting with Micky and Dan blaming his son for his own sexual inadequacies, we wonder if the games the adults play aren’t far more harmful that anything a video screen can cause.

But it’s the inclusion of Keira,(a wonderful Katey Hoffman) the virtual online sex doll that Zach is in love with that provides the most interesting dilemma. “Would you like to talk dirty? Play in the hot tub? Would you like to play the banana?” These are the questions Keira asks to everyone who accesses her program online. But rather than sex, Zach reaches out to Keira for love, writing her poems and sending her flowers and Keira responds by calling Zach her “only boyfriend.” As we watch the two interact we can’t help but marvel at the innocence of Zach’s intentions and loveliness of his affections. Surely we tell ourselves, this is a good kid. But never far from our minds is the creepiness of the situation and Zach’s obvious inability to socialize with any woman not of the virtual world. Eventually his ‘relationship’ to Keira is discovered by his father who is convinced his son is engaging in online porn and attempts to put a stop to it via a piece of spyware. But even this seemingly sensible piece of parenting is undermined by more game playing from Dan who shows himself to be far creepier than his son ever was.

Accompanying the questions raised and revelations offered in Gladstone’s visually taut production are Scott Reid’s Tetris-like building block set and Corwin Ferguson’s smartly chosen video game projections that pixilate whenever Zach and Micky are playing so as not to compete with the actors onstage. Here is an example of where multi-media makes sense in a production and Games is a show that never goes overboard with its video wall gimmicks. Humanity both in the story and on the stage is the real star.

RATING

For gamers – Your love of gaming is going to take a bit of a hit in this show as does the gamer personality.  But pay attention and you’ll see that Griffiths isn’t simply writing your passion off as unhealthy or dangerous.  Instead she’ s asking  questions about obsession and what it means to grow up well-adjusted in a world where gaming is the norm. SEE IT

For non-gamers – You don’t need to be up on the latest games or game technology to find your way into this story. Young men have always found something to be obsessed about whether it was cars or music etc. and parents have always been worried about whether their son’s passions were ‘healthy’.  The larger questions of what is normal and what is harmful are handled without cliché and that makes Games relatable to everyone. SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goer – There are no answers or neat ending in this production and that might make you uneasy. Right and wrong don’t really factor as certainties in Games and these shades of grey may not be to your taste. MAYBE SEE IT

For the theatre junkie – Exhale – this is not your usual issue play where preachy dialogue and obvious characters rule the narrative. Griffith has created a subtle condemnation of all everyone involved and in doing so leaves us with much to ponder. Maslany and Hsi as the two teens knock it out of the park with genuine performances genuine that are spot on. SEE IT

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