THE GAME BOY
Book & Lyrics by Robin Rothstein
Music & Lyrics by Mathew Gandolfo
Directed by Mary Catherine Burke
Choreography by Vibecke Dahle
Vital Children’s Theatre (http://www.vitaltheatre.org)
2162 Broadway (4th flr.)
Non-union production (through April 22)
Review by Charles Battersby
Chase (Tim Woods) is the best at every game you can think of; baseball, basketball, jump-rope; you name the game and he's the best. The only thing he can't do is schoolwork. His new classmate Lucy (Julia Arazi) is terrific in the classroom, but hopeless on the playground; can’t catch, can’t throw, can’t jump! Lucy's having trouble making new friends, and Chase's old pals are starting to make fun of him for his lousy grades in Astronomy. Chase and Lucy are both looking for an escape from their troubles, and they find that escape with the coolest toy ever; "Marathon To Mars"!
"Marathon to Mars" is a lot like a Nintendo Game Boy, but better! It's so much fun that Chase and Lucy just can't help but buy it from the slick-talking, high-pressure salesman at the electronics shop, who assures them that all the cool kids are playing "Marathon to Mars".
Soon the pressures of friends, school, and family are lost in the blue shift as Chase and Lucy devote themselves to their new game, rocketing through outer space, via cyberspace. Grades start to slip, old pals stop asking Chase to play, and Mom & Dad even threaten to take away Chase's game if he doesn't start doing better in school (who'll save the solar system then, Mom?)
Playwright Robin Rothstein wisely sidesteps the recent controversial shenanigans about violent video games like Grand Theft Auto, and doesn't try to blame the video game industry for all the evils of society (unlike certain politicians). Rather, Rothstein deals with video game addiction, and the tendency to use theoretically harmless hobbies as a way to withdrawal from life's problems.
This phenomenon is slowly becoming recognized as a legitimate medical problem, with video game addiction clinics popping up in Europe and Asia (mostly to treat the millions of World of Warcraft junkies out there). In fact, a certain theatre critic almost missed this show because he was trying to reach the next save point in God of War for Playstation 2.
Rothstein takes an even handed view of this, and even points out that sometimes games can be used to prompt interest in school subjects (who wouldn’t want to learn more about ancient Greece after playing God of War?) and can help build new friendships, like when Chase and Lucy unknowingly play together online.
Despite the fact that The Game Boy addresses a serious issue, the tone of the show is light and upbeat, featuring a small, versatile group of adults who do a great job portraying kids (with Lance Marshall standing out as a variety of adult authority figures). There are lots of tuneful songs by Mathew Gandolfo which keep the tone bouncy and kid-fun; of particular note is the music used to represent computer games, which is made up of classic Nintendo beeps and bloops. There’s also a few moments of audience interaction as well, letting some of brighter kids in the audience help Chase answer questions in class.
Video games are a terrific hobby, but kids would do well to heed Rothstein's message, and go outside 'n’ play every now and then.
(Also features: Kally Duling Andy McKissick, and Kristina Wilson)
Copyright 2007 Charles Battersby
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