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7/5/2024        THE GAME            Horizon Theatre


pgm 0705 The Game.jpg

Throughout history, the female of our erstwhile species has had to endure the fascination their partners have had with war, with conflict, with having the biggest … reputation … in the locker room.  Way back in the 400’s BCE, Greek playwright Aristophanes envisioned a revolt by the women of Athens to end the Peloponnesian War.   The plan was simple – put down your weapons or the marital bed will be forever dead to you.  In Lysistrata, it soon becomes apparent that the plan is just as difficult for the women as it is for the men.  And yet, the plan succeeds.


In Bekah Brunstetter’s hilarious and hard-hitting (as it were) The Game, the story is the same. We are in the town of Troy (of course) in one of the Carolina’s.  And Alyssa has lost her husband to a very modern (but somehow dripping with sameness) war – a MMORPG (if you have to ask, this play will no doubt resonate even more with you) called simply “The Game.”  Homer (of course) is the husband, possibly clinically depressed due to underemployment, probably clinically addicted to the game (I’m sorry, to “The Game”).


In a self-centered attempt to “get back her marriage” (and perhaps create a new young Trojan family), Alyssa gathers five strangers into her living room, all dredged from a Redditt inquiry for “who has lost your partner to “The Game?”  She attempts to fashion a support group for spouses “left behind,” and perhaps to even convince them their only recourse is to take the path of Lysistrata, withholding any intimacy until the gaming consoles are beaten into date nights and love breaks.

It doesn’t take long for the plan to fall to pieces and for the women to (perhaps) learn that maybe the problem is with them, and not their glassy-eyed warrior partners.


There is a lot of laughter in this play and a lot of aspects to love.  Of particular resonance are the back stories of all the women, each of whom gets a monologue revealing that maybe (just maybe) distracted spouses are the least of their worries.  Cleo is a pregnant army spouse, whose husband just may be resorting to the game because of PTSD.  Jen is a war photographer, whose same-sex partner is a (usually) joyful 2nd-grade teacher who recently endured a gun-in-the-school scare.  Rhonda is a boisterous force-of-nature with her own on-line addiction – buying and selling used clothing.  Myra is the “mother” of the group – a Boomer widow who joined the group because she longed for any sort of companionship.


All are blind to their own on-line distractions that are as addictive as a simple role-playing game.  Maybe more so.


Ms. Brunstetter cleverly structures this play like a Greek tragedy – we get “choral strophes” in the form of each character’s confessional monologues that introduce the next “Act” (and yes, in true Aristotelian form, there are five of them, in addition to an introduction and final coda.  There is no “fourth wall” for these as the women address us directly and even acknowledge our presence.  And each “act” performs its assigned role in the structure of the whole – The Plan, the Complication, The Climax, the Denouement, the Conclusion.  If this sounds a bit English Major-y, you must excuse me – I was, after all, an English major.  Needless to say, these Greek aspects are only there if you see them and do not detract if you don’t – enhancements, not critical elements.  Do not be distracted by looking for them.


Do not be distracted by the baby Alyssa carries throughout much of the play – you’ll only wonder why it never cries or fusses.


Do not be distracted by Homer’s man-cave in which he (apparently) spends every waking moment – you’ll only wonder when he finds the time to keep it so tidy.


Do not be distracted by the women battling to the death in a fiery denouement of pew-pew-pew gamesmanship of their own – you’ll only wonder why you wish you could join them.


Do not be distracted by Alyssa’s ill-conceived plan – you’ll only wonder if any of them have actually had any intimacy this week.  Or this month.  Or this year.   (Well, Cleo is pregnant and constantly hormone-horny, so at least one of them is getting regular service.)


This cast does a brilliant job of creating narcissistic characters who manage to grab onto our sympathies even as they make appallingly selfish choices.  Jennifer Alice Acker centers the piece with her red-hot temper and blind drive.  She touched that part of me that is bored by video games, that (indeed) finds little in common with gamers.  And she makes her final connection totally believable.  Sometimes the only way through a canyon dripping with enemies and weapons and peril is to boldly go forth into the shadows and (hopefully) come out on the other side.


Shannon Eubanks makes a welcome return to the stage as Myra, totally at sea in this world of video chats and MMORPG’s (again, if you have to look it up, this just may be the play for you).  She runs the gamut of emotion from elder referee to active participant to purveyor of bawdy humor.


Michelle Pokopac turns in another stellar performance as Jen, dismayed by these women’s lack of knowledge of what it means for two women to be in love, driven by her sense of horror at the atrocities she photographs, guilt-ridden by being merely a witness rather than “doing something to stop it.”


Marcie Millard is brilliantly flamboyant as Rhonda, sporting an outrageous new outfit with every scene, wallowing in her own fascination and joy in clothing and appearance.


Newcomer Hope Clayborne is a welcome addition as Cleo, struggling to support (and honor) her husband even as she feels least compelled to do so (consent police have been alerted).


And Chris Hecke is memorable as Homer, showing us a man-child whose addiction is really a life line, at least until his love for Alyssa provides a stronger salvation.


Set designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have provided an attractive living room set (Homer’s man-cave rotates into view when needed) that reflects Alyssa’s own success.  Maybe I would have liked to have seen a more-Greek-inspired design such as apparently graced the original April production in Chapel Hill NC.  But that would have merely been another grace note in Ms. Brunstetter’s ode to Greek comedy and may even have come across as metaphorically heavy-handed.


Director Caroline Jane Davis has staged the piece beautifully and given it a pace that rivals any on-line game play.  More to the point, she has her cast keep the characters’ less-then-ideal aspects subliminal and their charm and wit front-and-center.  This could easily have been a why-should-we-care-about-these-people slog, but the cast keeps it all gentle and light, and really raises the piece to a memorable new level.


So, fall victim to the appeal of The Game and “The Game.”  I did, and I wouldn’t mind spending a week or two exploring its levels and characters and wisdom.  I’m sure I can quit any time.


    --  Brad Rudy  (    #htcTheGame     #BekahBrunstetter)

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