Friday, August 09, 2013

Minnesota Fringe Festival - Review - No Stopping No Warping No Dying - Beaches, for Dudes

Tweet Review - NoStopping, NoWarping, NoDying does all 3 very well, a Beaches for video game playing dudes, and that's a compliment - 5 stars

When the lights came up after the Fringe show No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying was over, Mom turned to me, impressed, and said, "That was very good."

Yes.  Very.

"It's not really bread.  It's Jesus by the time you eat it."

I freely at admit to knowing next to nothing about video games or gaming culture.  Just something I missed.  So I was wondering how much I'd enjoy No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying.  Even after their Out of Towner Showcase preview with the hilarious Ten Commandments rap song, and the obvious chemistry between the two actors that convinced me to give the show a try.  Would I feel left out by a bunch of inside jokes?  Nope.  The play told me all I needed to know without clunky exposition.  I picked up the knowledge I needed as I went along, following the lives of two friends from their childhood days through adulthood.

"I still have three lives left and you'll be dead soon."

And since I'm gay, of course I made a Beaches reference in that tweet.  No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying has more than a little bit in common with the general trajectory of the plot of Beaches, even if Gavin Reedy has little in common with Barbara Hershey other than being a brunette, and amusing as he was, I don't think anyone would confuse Charles Askenaizer with Bette Midler.

"If I was your dad, I wouldn't leave your mom.  Never.  Your mom's hot."

Ed Krystosek's script leapfrogs nimbly in short scenes through these young men's lives until they have families and children of their own to contend with.  The actors working with director Peter Connor make the sometimes abrupt emotional transitions work.  The transitions between scenes and passage of time are accompanied by amusing electronic versions of pop songs old and new filtered through the sound system of a gaming console.  Speaking of gaming consoles, the most significant part of the set is an enormous replica of an old school Nintendo Entertainment System.  The super-Nintendo opens up in several different combinations to be a sofa, a couple of chairs or a bed, and is another part of the production's peculiar charm.

"You really don't get how jokes work, do you?  You're just funny every now and again out of dumb luck."

The guys are known only as Player 1 (Askenaizer) and Player 2 (Reedy), but even though we don't know their names, we know these guys.  We meet the boys when they discover the joys of Nintendo as a confirmation present for Player 1.  Player 2's parents' troubled marriage unravels over the course of a few quick scenes, and then Player 1's family needs to move away.  The boys' bond survives, however, and they meet up again at college, rooming together and playing games long into the night.  Of course there is a fight over a girl which leads to a fight on the eve of graduation pushing the two men apart for 12 years.

"Always forward, never straight - something my gay uncle says."

But when Player 2's life starts to fall apart after two significant shocks I won't spoil here, Player 1 reenters his life and becomes the strong foundation of support Player 2 needs to make tough decisions and preparations for their shared future.

"Aren't I entitled to a month of breakup sex and awkward breakfasts?"

There's a lot of laughter here, some easy, some borderline.  The very theatrical conceit of the rapid passage of time and the big gaming console as setting is further tweaked by asides to the audience, but oddly they don't distract from the story at hand, or the reality of the men's situation.  Equal credit goes to script, actors and director on that score.  While the audience is never not aware they're watching a play, even with the short scenes the viewer is drawn in by the intensity of the situations and the truth of the performances.

"Promise me you will read Harry Potter so you can talk to the girls.  How are you supposed to teach them anything if you don't know Dumbledore?"

No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying also has a great feel for how guys often just refuse to deal with their emotions, and the violent outbursts that arise when they're trying to keep from letting someone close enough to hurt them.  It also nails the power of a bond between two people with real history together.  It may not be a romance, but it's more than just a bromance.  These guys are brothers in every way that counts.  The actors make you believe the intensity (and awkwardness) of this connection.  It's something the play needs to work when it pushes into the adult years of these men's lives together.

"Tell me a story."
"Close your eyes.  Once upon a time there were two best friends.  And one of them was given an incredible gift."

The fact that No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying covers so much ground quickly and believably is a little marvel.  It's one well worth seeing before the Fringe Festival draws to a close and these guys head back to Chicago.  Hopefully they like us, and they'll come back again with something else soon.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

Next performance, today, Friday 8/9 at 4pm
For more information, see their Fringe page

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