Review: “Of Dice and Men” – Otherworld Theatre

Of Dice and Men - Otherworld Theatre
Of Dice and Men – Otherworld Theatre

Show:  Of Dice and Men

Company: Otherworld Theatre

Venue: The Public House Theatre

Die Roll: n/a
There really could not be a better fit for the first play to be reviewed as part of this column’s launch in Chicago.  For that reason, I didn’t do the random dice roll prior to this show.  I chose to see it, given the play’s theme.

Otherworld Theatre’s production of Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men centers around the lives of a group of friends who play Dungeons & Dragons together.

Director Tiffany Keane has assembled a cast of six solid actors who skillfully portray the wide variety of folks who play fantasy role-playing games.  Now, you might assume that the characters of this play are made up of 30-somethings and 40-somethings who live in their mother’s basements.  And, you would be right if you were thinking about the narrator of the piece, John Francis (played by Bennett Decker Bottero).  John Francis has come to a point in his life wherein he questions where he’s headed and what it all means.

His personal quandary (which seems a bit like an early-onset mid-life crisis) is brought to the fore when he accepts a job across the country and away from his friends.  It is further compounded by the fact that one of those friends is about to ship out with the Marines.  And another layer of complication is added when the deadline of John Francis’s impending relocation forces his hand on a potential love relationship.

From what is said within the play, it seems that the rest of the characters don’t fill the niche of the negative gamer stereotype.  However, anyone who had played table top RPG’s for any length of time has met these people many times over.  There’s the passionate power gamer, who puts too much time into memorizing stats, charts, books, and supplements (brought to life by Sawyer Heppes).  There’s the hot girl who inexplicably hangs out with the geeky guys (portrayed here by Mary-Kate Arnold).  There’s the suburban couple with kids, jobs, and a mortgage (Sam Fain and Gwynn V. Fulcher).  And finally, there’s the jock who would fit in with the popular crowd, but opts for a life of fantasy (played by Elliot Sowards).

Some of the best moments in this play are the monologues within which we get to meet the player characters that the play’s characters play at their gaming sessions.  Fulcher’s soccer mom whips out her battle hammer and puts on a beard to become a dwarven cleric with a talent for perverse puns.  Fain does a wonderful job of showing what a character is like when a player isn’t really into the game.  His barbarian is very simplistic, straight-forward, and easily distracted.

The set is simple and tight.  The playing area at the Pub isn’t the largest in town, but the show makes great use of what is there.  Keane’s direction clearly focuses on building relationships between the characters, which is important in a play that is really about those relationships and the changes that go on within them.  That being said, there is something exceptionally fun about the notations and side-comments that are made on the action of the play through the use of a big-screen TV mounted above the stage.

For those who fear that going to see this play might be like sitting and watching other people playing a game that you don’t understand for 90 minutes, your fears are misplaced.  Yes, you’ll be watching people who are purported to be playing Dungeons and Dragons, but the game play isn’t the featured part of this show.  What is featured is the game that we’re all involved in everyday: the game of life (I’m talking real life here, not the game made by Milton Bradley).

As we take on the real-life adventures that confront us every day, we do so with the help of our friends.  That’s the message behind this play.  And as the show goes on you feel like you’ve become part of this group, and you’re cheering on your new-found friends.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Group of gamers comes together in epic battle for friendship.

RATING: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”

Runs through March 30, 2014.