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Michael McGrath as
the host of Game Show
Theatermania contestants, you have five seconds to answer the following question. If you answer correctly, you can save $49.50! True or False: Game Show at 45 Bleecker is a play you must see.

Your time is up. The correct answer is FALSE. Under no circumstances should you see Game Show by Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton. It's a lame version of that new breed of play, theater for people who don't like theater.

The concept of Game Show is simple and commercially smart: Create a mock game show in which audience members can compete for prizes and, at the same time, wrap that around a witty backstage plot. This production does a perfectly fine job in creating a trivia-based game show that the audience can enjoy, but its backstage story is an embarrassment.

We have nothing against plays that appeal to audiences that might not otherwise go to the theater. If neophytes enjoy themselves at something like Stomp or Lifegame, they might more readily try a more traditional piece of stagecraft the next time around. But Game Show offers only the razzmatazz of being a member of a studio audience with the chance to win a modest prize (like a DVD player) or a Game Show T-shirt. Ironically, you'll have to pay $49.50 for that privilege, when you could be part of the studio audience of a real game show for free!

The action of the "play" consists largely of witless bits of hackneyed, backstabbing shenanigans, as various members of the cast and crew of the fictional game show vie for power, money, and fame. If the creators had any sort of point of view toward these characters and their actions, it might add up to something. But Game Show has no real attitude.

The usually reliable Mark Waldrop directs as if he's sinking in theatrical quicksand. This show isn't a satire or a send-up. It has nothing to say about any of the ingredients of a game show--greed, the nature of contestants, the trivialization of knowledge, etc. The bottom line is that there is nothing sly or clever about Game Show's show-within-a-show. Oh, there is a surprise foisted on the audience, but it's badly executed and so fundamentally unfair that the production offers an apology to those who might be offended by the fast and loose way it bends its own rules.

Audience members play the game
Ironically, the actual game show is entertaining because the live audience provides better material than the play's authors. The paying customers also prove to be more original and entertaining as personalities than the characters played by the show's cast. The exception is Michael McGrath, delightfully sleazy and self-aware as game show host Troy Richards; his backhanded ad-libs about the contestants are genuinely amusing. But as soon as he has to interact with the other actors in the show and follow the script, all the life goes out of his character.

We could tell you more about the various cast members and the roles they play, but Game Show isn't about the acting. All the effort in this production is on the level of surface appeal. That's why the set design by James Youmans is so much glitzy fun; it really does have the look and feel of a network game show. But a set is supposed to serve as the backdrop for a play. There is no play here.

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