The first line of classic text-based adventure game Zork gets an existentialist spin coupled with a pounding hip-hop beat in You Are In An Open Field, playing at HERE. Although plenty of energy, ideas, and talent abound in this romp, the show, directed by Christopher Dippel, never sufficiently harnesses its considerable assets into anything more than a rowdy series of what feel like improvisational sketches.
With book and lyrics by performers Kevin R. Free, Marta Rainer, and Adam Smith, along with Eevin Hartsough, and music by Carl Riehl, the meta-theatrical piece centers on a trio of friends, Kevin, Marta and Adam, who have yet to give up on the dreams inspired by the video games they played as kids or let go of the rough times they’ve had in their lives.
In an unkempt basement (Lauren Parrish and director Dippel provide the accoutrements for HERE’s actual basement theater), they find themselves visited by a character known simply as “Actor” (played with hammy aplomb by Steven A. French), who, dressed variously as a crotchety old gnome, a Burger King crown-sporting monarch, and other characters, spurs them on to imaginary adventures each with a treasure at the end.
Turning video game obstacles and challenges into a metaphor for the hurdles one has to overcome in life is a cunning idea, and when the show manages to zero in on this notion specifically it is at its most interesting. And at other moments, certain absurd flourishes can induce hearty laughs, particularly a challenge that involves Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Liliana Dirks-Goodman has also created some whimsical video, which delivers a decidedly heartfelt valentine to the sorts of games that clearly has had a profound effect on the show.
However, the enterprise is unbearably weighed down by trivial details, notably bouts of couch-fort building and other pre-pubescent game-playing by the performers. Watching Free munch on things like maraschino cherries as accompanied by the noises heard in a Pac-Man game (sound design by Moses and Pope) proves only fitfully amusing before turning tiresome.
While the cast certainly delivers the songs with gusto and perform their scenes with zeal, their enthusiasm only emphasizes the lack of genuine dramatic tension.