Monday, August 20, 2012

Of Dice and Men thoughts...

“Of Dice and Men”

I first played D&D when I was 11 or 12 with a girl who barely understood the mechanics and we quickly became distracted by other things like dog walking and riding our bikes. I wouldn’t get another opportunity to play the game until I was just about to turn 17 and that came when another girl invited me to play with her, her sister, and their DM. But let me just say that RPG’s were probably one of the most important discoveries in my life and The Game became my primary social outlet for years to come. As a painfully shy, brutally awkward, and physically scarred “weirdo”, D&D became an outlet through which I could reach out to others and enjoy a goal oriented activity that allowed my imagination to thrive. It wasn’t long before I took up the mantle of DM and began to design my own stories and adventures for various systems. I met my wife through White Wolf’s “World of Darkness” series and I’ve attended a couple of conventions, made various friends, and I’ve enjoyed a number of different worlds and settings throughout the years. It may even be more important than professional wrestling with regards to my personal growth and the influence it has had on me throughout the years.

I read about “Of Dice and Men” in our local Weekly newspaper, a brief blurb that mentioned the opening of the show and that it was about a group of gamers coping with adulthood. Let me preface this by saying most stories and television shows and even movies tend to portray Gamers in a negative light… at best we’re portrayed as harmless nerds with no social skills. At worst, we’re portrayed as psychotic and delusional. The only exception I’ve ever been able to find is the “Dead Gentlemen” indie film, so I was a little nervous about what this production would offer and held my head up high just in case. I didn’t just hold it up high… They offered “cosplay” night, with a 50% discount if we came in costumes and I am THAT much of a geek. And so on went the kimono as my wife dressed as the “Fall Faerie”. We were ready for whatever may come! So let’s take this over to the “2X4 BASH” presentation at Hartnell…

GREAT!!! “Of Dice And Men” is a fantastic play that finally treats MY hobby with the respect and honesty it deserves, portraying it’s characters as more than just the predictable stereotypes so often found. That’s not to say the stereotype isn’t touched upon, because it is… and it’s treated with the humor and acceptance so many in the hobby have struggled to find. And our main character doubles as the narrator as well as the Dungeon Master, telling us about his discovery of the hobby and his earliest friendship with his first player. We meet a colorful selection of characters… and THEIR characters, the rogue, fighters, wizard, and cleric that make up the typical adventuring party in just about every game. Each actor doubles as a character in the play AND a character in the game, dressing in the elaborate costume for each of the games larger than life adventurers. But, even more than that, these characters also represent the inner core of each character… what makes each person unique in how they view and approach The Game.

Our DM is packing his books and getting ready to move after having accepted a job across the country. But while this is a major change in the lives of these friends, it is not the driving change of the story. Just before he is able to make his announcement, the DM is beaten to the punch by another player who announces his own major life decision. The group is split and the reactions are mixed, but nothing is going to be the same again for any of these people. In order to cope with all of the major challenges, our DM is forced to re-evaluate his life and the lives of his friends. Feeling responsible for the care of everyone around him, our DM conjures memories of the past and brings the audience into the present and we watch him adapt to the changes around him. The story is told from a single perspective so we don’t see what the players are really thinking or how they feel, which is important for a number of later revelations. We’re not flies on the wall in this spectacle… we’re the DM’s audience and his confessors. He’s talking to us and this is his story. And it’s definitely one worth hearing.

Now... I'd like to tell you about the performers themselves, but this moron lost his program. Seriously... dropped it or lost it in the car or whatever and I'm honestly not familiar with all the performers. I've worked with one of them before, but I don't think it's fair to mention one without mentioning the others and they were all so very good. So go check out the show yourselves, pick up your own programs, and read the names there. Thanks for reading, faceless readers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thoughts: August Osage County at Paperwing Theatre

“Art isn’t safe.” Bill Mosely attributed the quote to Rob Zombie on the day he had to shoot an extremely rough scene during “the Devil’s Rejects”. It was a phrase that stuck in my own mind through the years… because art isn’t safe. I like the phrase and it’s appropriate here. Art isn’t always beautiful, it isn’t always victorious, and it isn’t always going to shine a line through the shadows. Sometimes it will drag you through the broken glass and remind you of hurts and pains, it gives you an outlet for a good cry and it simply affects you in a way that can be cathartic. It can help us face the shadows within ourselves. But it still isn’t safe.

“August, Osage County” is that kind of art… a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family. They’re not the trailer trash definition of dysfunctional, either… these are middle-class, educated, and total poison to one another kind of dysfunction. Family dinners with verbal jabs and deflating dismissals, people who can’t even resist tearing one another down at the worst of times. When we first meet the patriarch, Beverly (Richard Mueller) is interviewing a young Cheyenne woman(Norma Barocio as the grounded "Johnna") for a live-in house-maid. We find out, through the course of the show, that he was once a successful poet whose work earned great honors in his youth. He was never able to follow up the success and became an established professor at the local university. His mood waxes and wanes throughout the conversation and he admits to his own alcoholism before introducing us to the family’s matriarch, Violet; Drug addled, diagnosed with mouth cancer, and cruel. She is played by Deanna Edwards in a deeply moving portrayal; chain-smoking through several scenes, baiting her relatives and opening wounds with malicious intentions and the occasional honeyed words. When Beverly goes missing, the rest of the family rushes to Violet’s side and things quickly escalate. Actually, the crap hits the fan. There are plenty of laughs, but intermission comes with a much needed reprieve for myself. The well-timed concession break gave me time to prepare for the roller coaster ride of the second half, where the fan starts hitting back with a vengeance. Big revelations, twists, turns, and some truly cathartic moments worthy of cheers. And it’s hilarious!

Okay, when you pick up a program and open the pages I want you to study every actor on the page… they are all amazing. All of them blew me away! When I first started writing this I had to try and think about a way to make this whole thing make a lick of sense without spoiling anything, but if I were to even touch on who ALL the characters are and what they did throughout their performance it would spoil just too much. Each character adds a specific dimension to the story, people we can admire, hate, feel pity for, and just flat out disgust in some cases. Some characters turn out to be not what they first seem while others become something less than what they seem. And while I want to talk about the fantastic work from each and every performer, whether they made me hate, love, cheer, or jeer for them… I just can’t figure out a way to do it without spoiling the story for others. And I want other people to walk into this as blind as I did… I only knew it was about this family and specifically focused on the mother and her relationship with the three daughters during this crisis. That was pretty much it.

I have to mention one performer, however… the physicality of her performance and the raw emotion on display deserves high praise. Linda Dale is the eldest daughter, Barbara. Playing opposite Charlotte throughout much of the show, Barbara is set as a constant foil to her mother. The two play verbal games of cat and mouse, each one struggling for a position of authority within all the chaos. The mother/daughter bond between the two characters is strong and incredibly frightening. I was moved to tears through the performance of these two women and their dynamic with one another is heart wrenching.

5 out of 5.