Arts & Events
OF DICE AND MEN at Impact Theatre is about “Dungeons & Dragons” and the adults who play the game.
If you have ever been a D&D aficionado, get a ticket immediately.
The audience loved it, tittered continuously, laughed loudly, and applauded uproariously in the always edgy and entertaining theatre beneath the pizza kitchen on Hearst in Berkeley.
Dungeons and Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson has been around since 1974, but for me, it was like watching a cricket match. I enjoyed the reactions and enthusiasm of the crowd and all the action on the field, though only slowly did I grasp the format of the endeavor.
The actors create immediately recognizable characters, we discover what those real-life characters do when they were not being annoyingly ingratiating or making lame attempts at wit. It was a little like being stuck at the nerds’ table. It made me uncomfortable; when it’s good acting that does that, I like it. This production has the kind of acting that makes one wonder if these people were selected from central casting and are really like that. But having seen several of them in different roles, I was entranced with how well they recreated these characters who we meet (and try to avoid) every day.If you like the character-driven TV sitcom “Big Bang Theory,” this will appeal.
The women do a particularly exceptional job.
Linda-Ruth Cardozo portrays middle-aged mom with family whose love-pact with her football-loving husband was to attend one another’s interest though wholly uninterested in their mate’s fascination.
Maria Giere Marquis portrays a fully modern and sexually outspoken women who is as tough as the boys while giving them a cleavage-filled thrill. Intellectual, successful, with the active imagination of an 11-year old who longs to be an elfin princess is a fascinating combination as written, and her acting brings it to life.
The play premiered a year ago, and a friend’s joining the Marines in the midst of the Afghan incursion plays into the conflict; the fence is diplomatically straddled about the political implications of enlistment, but realistic for those who have a dear friend joining the ranks.
There are downsides: with other “game-driven” dramas (“Chess,” “The Changing Room,” etc.), the emphasis is on the human conflict. OF DICE AND MEN, does have love and friendship conflicts, but these share the spotlight too much with the D&D gaming action, which, for the uninitiated, quickly grows tiresome.
Cameron McNary is a new playwright who too often gets mired in the everlasting monologue. Unless it is an eloquent aria full of imagery or internal wrangling like the messenger from any Greek play, or Hamlet or Macbeth’s misgivings, or Tom’s colored-glass speech from “Glass Menagerie,” monologues can be theatrical quick-sand. And this quagmire is bogging down far too many productions I’ve seen recently. The first rule is to dramatize the circumstances, theme and action, not chat about it to the audience.
It is directed by artistic director Melissa Hillman with seemingly less imagination and demand than her usual stunning productions (like her recent “Romeo & Juliet”). However, Dr. Hillman knows her audience and anticipated its draw—the fellow seated in front of me was back for his second viewing having brought a friend.
I recommend it, though for the inexperienced it might help to Wikipedia “Dungeons and Dragons” before going to see it, in much the same way that looking up the lineage of Lancashire and York might help before attending Henry VI.
This company’s productions seem to have a lasting IMPACT on me for days thereafter. Not all drama does that—though that is one of the yardsticks of the good kind—and these are the considerations that have been coursing through my mind:
As a critic and addicted consumer of television, video, theatre, internet, I’m always concerned about the time investment of non-participative viewing.
Most of us--like Chauncey Gardener of “Being There”--like to watch: television, football games, our computers. Some go out of their enclaves to the theatre, cinema (IMAX-3D!), concerts, professional sporting events. They are passive, vicarious, most-reward/least-effort endeavors.
And anything worth doing is, of course, worth overdoing.
So we invest large portions of our limited time (listen to the count-down clock ticking away toward the crypt) in entertaining ourselves.
Lately I’ve been watching documentaries about cavemen, evolution, and the long strange trip to Homo sapien-ism. It seems that classic evidence of behavioral modernity includes: finely-made tools, burial, figurative art, music, and game playing.
A major evolutionary step for genus Homo was developing the ability to imagine: without it, there is no progress.
The other evolutionary step that pushed us forward was forming bonds with family and friends that took our concerns off our selves (at least momentarily) to tend to the indisposed, pregnant, new-born, and ill.
These D&D dweebs participate in a fascinatingly active and imaginative endeavor of character creation and free-form decision-making and interaction.
This tale led me to believe that the endeavor results in serious bonding around this activity; more so perhaps than playing bridge or watching Monday night football.
The “fantasy” genre—in full bloom in this century—is a portentous phenomenon. In the last decade of the 20th century, Sci-Fi peaked. But since 2001, “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” and more recently the “Twilight” series, fiction, cinema, and television have been imbued with fantasy. As a Boomer, my youth was filled with dreams of social justice, the fight against the Vietnam War, and the fantasy of a new world instead of a New World Order. Is this latest brush with the fantastic just another escape from a seemingly inevitable Brave New World; or is it akin to what we did by turning on, tuning in, dropping acid? Makes you think.
OF DICE AND MEN by Cameron McNary
Directed by Melissa Hillman
Through October 1.
Impact Theatre performing at La Val's Subterranean, 1834 Euclid, Berkeley
Info/tickets: www.impacttheatre.com/season/index.php (510) 224-5744
WITH: Jonathon Brooks, Linda-Ruth Cardozo. Maria Giere Marquis, Stacz Sadowski, Jai Sahai, and Seth Thygesen
John McMullen is a member of SFBATCC, ATCA, and SDC. Editing by EJ Dunne.