The Wii Plays: Off Off Broadway

There’s no doubt about it. Games can and do inspire other art forms. I write excitedly about it in my upcoming videogame book, All Your Base Are Belong to Us. And here’s more vivid proof: the dozen, little one-act Wii Plays currently showing at New York’s Ars Nova theater.

These young playwrights who have done good (through not always very good) work have riffed on games for inspiration. More, everything in the theater is drenched in games. Super Mirage, a Brooklyn band plays music as bouncy as Mario bounding from mushroom to mushroom. At intermission, a blurry, old Pac-Man cartoon loops on a huge screen. It’s a completely convivial atmosphere overall.

The first of the dozen plays shines. Here, actors Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Christopher Jackson are two young ex-lovers, meeting by chance at a coffee shop. They fire tight volleys of insults at each other – with Wii Tennis controllers in hand. But it’s not just about insults. By the time it’s over, you see the characters become introspective, even loving. Grays’ careful, nuanced reactions are particularly brilliant.

Buck Fever is inspired by hunting games, which have been a staple of arcades and consoles games for decades. In fact, Nintendo’s Duck Hunt was released way back in 1985. In Buck Fever, Zach Shaffer as Henry, kind of a lad-era Maxim guy, goes on various deer hunts with a friend. By the end of the play, Henry reveals some secrets, and hunting for him will never be the same again. Shaffer shows his thoughtful range throughout.

Some of the plays aren’t so good. Barbie As The Island Princess makes the iconic doll into a kind of feminist who’s not shy about cursing. Feminist Barbie isn’t a new idea, though. Most recently, for instance, you saw a thinking, feeling Barbie in Toy Story 3. So half the plays are worthy; half are so-so. Still, there are some fine lines in every play.

And for $15, you get to witness the work of some fine young actors and playwrights — in a completely rare event, plays inspired by videogames. The Wii Plays is at Manhattan’s Ars Nova Theater until February 12.

-Harold Goldberg

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