Theatre

Michaelle Bradford

Michaelle Bradford

True gamers, especially nostalgic ones, will appreciate The New Colony’s world premiere of Merge. Closing out its 2016 season, this 90-minute, fast-paced, and often funny, performance at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage spotlights the roller-coaster history of Atari, a pioneer manufacturer of video arcade games.

 

Written by Spenser Davis and directed by Andrew Hobgood, Merge provides an inside look at the tumultuous ups and downs of the video game company from its start in the early 1970's.

 

The script is Davis’ first original full-length play. Submitted through The New Colony’s writers program, it made quite an impression on company members. “Merge was the rare instance of a story flying off the page with such ferocity that Andrew and I needed to get our ensemble in the room immediately,” said Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder. “Spenser Davis’ hilarious and insightful script will welcome onstage the largest cast The New Colony has assembled since our first season.”

 

Despite the size, Hobgood’s staging of the huge 16-member cast in such a small space was mostly effective. However, at times, when the full cast was onstage, the fast-talking and screaming could be a bit overwhelming.

 

The set design was one of the biggest stars of this production with a video arcade cabinet as the backdrop along with a bright neon color scheme.

 

The opening action starts in the late 70's around the time Atari, hugely successful with its arcade and home console video games but cash-strapped, merged with Warner Bros. Atari employees are frazzled by the corporate takeover and the impact ricochets throughout the company as key players leave. Pot smoking, Jacuzzi parties and eccentric behaviors had fueled Atari’s workplace during its rise. When they have to sell to Warner Bros. to stay afloat, along with the influx of corporate cash comes corporate structure and new requirements, including wearing socks.

 

The use of the flashback technique and flexible, moving set pieces allow the action to flow seamlessly back through time as the audience is quickly introduced to Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Like a video game version of the odd couple, these two opposite personalities are behind one of the fastest growing companies in America.

 

Their different styles, business philosophy, especially on how to handle lawsuits from competition, and Bushnell’s hard-driving ambition, eventually force Dabney out of the company. Ironically Bushnell himself is ousted as CEO after the Warner Bros. merger, paving the way for a more straight-laced chief in Stuart Nygard.  It was this move that prompted many of the remaining programmers who had been with Atari from the beginning to jump ship and align with a competing company.

 

In one of the more fascinating, yet somewhat out-of-place scenes, a courtroom battle that feels more like an episode of “Wild ‘N Out” ensues between Warner Bros. and that rival. Dabney returns at a pivotal moment providing information that will not only have long-lasting repercussions for Warner Bros. but the video game industry as a whole.

 

Merge is creative and fun and packs a lot of history in 90 minutes. A huge and high-energy cast and creative staging keep the story moving in a compelling fashion.

 

Recommended

 

Merge is now playing at The Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage through November 13, 2016. Tickets are available at www.thenewcolony.org.

In the current political climate, where the political left and right are more divided than ever in their world view, Northlight Theatre’s The City of Conversation provides a glimpse at an elite class of Washington, DC, power players and how they charted the course of this country from behind the scenes for many decades.

 

The play, which opens Northlight’s 42nd season, centers on the relationships of a liberal socialite and her powerful but understated influence. The show’s title is a nod to British author Henry James’ famous view of Washington, DC, and the impact of its parlor games, and women in particular, on politics.

 

Written by Anthony Giardina and directed by Marti Lyons, The City of Conversation takes place in an exclusive Georgetown enclave and spans more than 30 years (from President Carter to the inauguration of President Obama) of socialite Hester Ferris’ (played by Lia D. Mortensen) political maneuverings over cocktails and posh dinners.

 

The play kicks off in 1979 during the twilight, and what Hester calls the malaise, of Carter’s term. She is hosting a very important party for her longtime, married partner Senator Chandler Harris (played by Tim Decker). Through the power of gentle persuasion, filtered through a catered meal and cocktails, Hester hopes to wrangle the vote of Republican Senator George Mallonee (played by Tim Morrison) for an important piece of legislation that will buoy Senator Teddy Kennedy’s chances in a primary bid against Carter.

 

Things take an unexpected turn when Hester’s son, Colin Ferris (played by Greg Matthew Anderson), shows up a day early from London with his fiancé Anna Fitzgerald (played by Mattie Hawkinson) who is not only an outsider from a small Minnesota town but also extremely ambitious, which Hester is quick to notice, and is a supporter of Governor Ronald Reagan.

 

The events of that evening set a course resulting in family division as both Hester and Anna wrestle with the rising tide of Reaganism and the resulting power shifts from liberal elites to the “Barbarians at the Gate,” as Anna calls the new crop of conservative outsiders, like herself, taking power.

 

Things come to a head for the family during the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as Hester, Anna and Colin, now a staunch republican, spar over the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

 

Though Hester’s influence has declined over the years she is still working behind the scenes to stop the momentum of Bork’s nomination. Colin, who works for Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, begs his mother not to embarrass him by intruding in the process. However, Anna, who is now in a powerful position within the Justice Department overseeing Bork's nomination, discovers Hester’s attempts to derail him and sparks fly as the two women, who are similar in their ambition and that they were once both outsiders who fought their way into the centers of power, engage in a heated argument culminating in an ultimatum and an irreconcilable break.

 

This scene is the strongest of the entire play and certainly generates the most excitement as Hester and Anna throw sharp barbs at each other. Perhaps the one drawback is that there is so much dialogue that both actors feel a little rushed in their delivery so the lines don’t always land as powerfully as intended.

 

A theme running throughout The City of Conversation is that Northeastern elites forgot the plight of the common man whose eventual political rise, however, lead to the decline of their Georgetown class along with the toney parties, described by Hester as an arm of the government. And gone with that brand of cocktail diplomacy are the civility and the mutual respect across the partisan divide that made political battles more of a chess match than the blood sport they are today.

 

The City of Conversation is being performed at the Northlight Theatre through October 23. Tickets are available at northlight.org.

 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 09:30

Review: You on the Moors Now

From its frenetic opening to its poetic end, The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now is a rip-roaring, hilarious adventure. The play, written by Jaclyn Backhaus, features four of classic literature’s all-time favorite heroines: Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennett from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, and Cathy Earnshaw from Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”.

 

Directed by Devon de Mayo, this little gem may not be quite what these famed authors from the 19th century envisioned when they wrote their enduring novels, however for any lover of those romantic classics this new look at our heroines is definitely worth the journey.

 

Even if you are not familiar with the novels, in a very effective move, de Mayo takes great care to make sure the audience is not lost by creating the “Pemberley Museum” setting complete with artifacts as well as “museum guides” providing detailed information about each heroine.

 

If you are familiar then you know that Lizzy’s, Jane’s, Cathy’s and Jo’s stories have often been retold on the stage and big and small screen, offering up modern touches and interpretations for new generations. You on the Moors Now attempts to do all of that and more by merging all four storylines seamlessly with humor. It is an empowering look at a group of women who say ‘no’ not only to their ardent suitors but also to the conventions and societal norms expected of them. They lean in and on each other as they embark on a journey that is not without a battle and considerable cost.

 

One of the elements that makes the play so much fun is the role reversal where the suitors: Laurie (Little Women), Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights), Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre) are utterly distraught – DISTRAUGHT – even collapsing on the floor in a faint, as if their whole worlds have been destroyed, at the very idea of being so impudently rejected.

 

Meanwhile, the heroines are settled on the moors around a campfire enjoying s'mores and sharing solidarity and dreams of what they can be and do with their newfound freedom.

 

In one illuminating scene, the group of heroines observes how men are granted space to get over their disappointments while women are expected to just make themselves presentable for the next opportunity. For them, this moment represents their chance to have that same space and in it, they will live, travel and love.

 

The men, however, plan to not only find Jo, Jane, Lizzy and Cathy but to exact vengeance for their spurned proposals as well. A battle of the sexes ensues as each side enlists the aid of secondary characters from all four novels including the Bingley siblings from “Pride and Prejudice” – Charles and Caroline, and St. John River and his sister from “Jane Eyre”. Messages are passed from camp to camp via perfumed handkerchiefs and colorful ribbons until a betrayal leads the suitors to the heroines’ encampment where the hilarious battle of the Moors Wars commences – complete with movie and TV references from the “Game of Thrones” to “Home Alone”.

 

A very talented, diverse cast keeps a fast pace and a consistent rhythm throughout most of the play. However, after an energetic fight scene, the third act slows a bit but that could be due to the shift into more prose and poetic language, which could easily appear in any of the novels, and it provides a very effective and satisfying ending.

 

You on the Moors Now is playing at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage until October 30, 2016. Tickets can be purchased at www.the-hypocrites.com.

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