By Patrick Hurley
Video games, Lithuanian pastries, and raging optimism are just a few aspects that make up Gamers, a new play by Scott Barnhardt, playing now at the Studio/Stage as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Following wide-eyed optimist Paul Elliot Anderson (EJ Cabasal), a sort of Kimmy Schmidt-type idealist as he enters a video gaming house, after being raised in a convent, filled with gamers all competing to get the most views. The house even has a leader board, so they always know who’s in the lead. For what you ask? For getting people to watch them playing video games . That’s right, they record themselves playing video games, and compete for online viewers. It’s a vicious, cutthroat battlefield that finds Paul, very much a Pollyanna in its trenches. And Paul is definitely a fish out of water. He only has nice things to say to and about people, he even waxes sentimental about the sadistic nuns, with preposterous names, from the convent he was raised in. He’s obsessed with a Lithuanian pastry, a name so ridiculous that I will not try to spell it here, and his best friend is a popsicle stick!
At the center of the house is Mr. Harrington (Adam Turney), a bombastic daddy’s boy, who would seemingly sell his own mother’s soul for ratings. Then there’s the players themselves; @slipthesquirrel (Max Risch), a cross between a stoner and a surfer dude who is perpetually shirtless and always amiable. @samdude (Nicolette Norgaard) the only female player, who is also a raging feminist. a388p (Quinn Francis), assistant to Mr. Harrington, who mumbles most of her dialogue, mostly due to the fact that she just can’t anymore. And finally @blaze22 (Will Block) a hardcore gamer who finds Paul and his optimism an unwelcome presence in the house.
The script moves quickly and is often hilarious, creating a world where Paul’s optimism is tested, and tested and ultimately pushed to the very brink of reason. Director Jeff Maynard completely embraces the strange and dark world and lets his cast push these characters as far as they’ll go without ever going too far. And the young cast completely dives into the material and enthusiastically brings this heightened and crazy world to vigorous life. And while it is dark and twisted, in a strange Hallmark kind of way, it also wants to hold on to the values that make Paul a compelling ball of contradictions who is as lovable as he is confounding. A semi-finalist at the 2017 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Gamers is a side-splitting and dark look at what our world certainly needs more of right now, the thing that Paul Elliot Anderson simply refuses to let go of…a little bit of hope.
By Scott Barnhardt
Directed by Jeff Maynard
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