Sunday, August 02, 2020

Virtual Fringe 2020 Review - Break the Dice - The Bearded Company - A Goofy Pleasant Diversion - 4.5 stars

Tweet review: #NightlyFringe outing #1 for virtual #mnfringe 2020: Break the Dice; clever adaptation to Twitch/socially distant format, sound out of sync on my feed, but I just pretended they were poorly dubbed and enjoyed myself enormously - 4.5 stars

(Previous overview) (for the curious)

The Bearded Company has brought this concept to the Fringe twice before (maybe more, but I've only caught them twice).  Given that improv (like most ensemble acting) is based on the idea of everyone being in the same room together, I was extremely curious how they were going to make this work.  But they really got in the spirit of using the video component to their advantage.  

"Like our forebears..."
"Wait? Your father was a bear?"

For instance, that 20-sided die is very important to the fates of how all the characters and plot lines are going to work out, for good or ill.  Now the die has its very own Die Cam, with a camera in extreme close up on the bowl in which the die is tossed.  So we don't have to rely on the Game Master (Allen Voigt) to tell us the result of the roll, we can see it for ourselves.  (The Game Master's very honorable, I'm sure he'd never cheat, but for the less trusting among us, you can now keep an eye on him.)

"Hang on!  They have to sing a song first!"
As the storyline shifted between characters, whoever was their "behind the scenes" technical wizard was really on top of things, shifting different actors in and out of view and arranging them artfully on the screen.  The Game Master, like the Die Cam, has his own fixed box off to the side of the screen, where he dreams up the narration based on the roll of the die.  And since there are cameras, that means a monster (always played here by Joe Rapp) can get right up in the lens and distort his features in all sorts of amusing ways.  

"I didn't see any signage, I'm sorry."

It's also pretty entertaining to watch them all pretend to fight with one another from their positions in their own isolated boxes.  And this group has been working closely together for so long that they know how to play off of one another even when separated by distance and only able to key off each other via an image on a screen.  They're also very skilled at filling whatever time they have (be it a regular Fringe run time of an hour, or here, where it's only a half hour), and keeping an eye on the clock to bring the whole story to a climax at the appropriate moment.

"We can attack them in their sleep!"
"Sounds fair."
"It's the squirrels' way."

The set up this time was an elf warrior (Tyler Michaels King) and his knight pal (MJ Marsh) are on a quest (per usual) and quite literally stumble into the middle of a mud forest and the high stakes balance of power between the woodland creatures (a sister and brother pair of really vengeful squirrels - Maria Bartholdi and Tyler Mills), their protector frog with laser eyes (Rapp), and a very ornery giant (also Rapp).  It is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and every twist and turn in battle is accompanied by the roll of the die.  

"Looks like you're about to croak."

A high roll means their fortunes are looking good because their fighting and acrobatic skills, sense of aim and perception is increased.  A low roll means someone else gets the upper hand.  And because it's all just pretend violence, the Game Master can narrate things to get as gory as he likes and his fellow improvisers play along.  

"The mud just keeps getting deeper."
"That's good mud!"

It's a goofy, pleasant diversion, and until places like HUGE Theater can open once more, there is also a podcast version of Break The Dice you can listen to on the various pod platforms.  Great way to kick off the Nightly Fringe part of the Virtual Fringe's programming on opening night.

"Leave now and I'll only kill one of your friends."
"They're barely our friends yet."

And though the live show is now over, they've put the stream up on their facebook page so everyone can still make it part of their Fringe viewing over the coming week.

4.5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

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