Atari Play Navigates Pitfalls and Astroids to Find Bigger Truths

Atari Play Navigates Pitfalls and Astroids to Find Bigger Truths

(front, l to r) Stephanie Shum and Kevin Stangler with the cast of The New Colony’s MERGE. Photo by Evan Hanover.

Review: MERGE at The New Colony

By Tonika Todorova.

It’s no wonder New Colony’s original play MERGE appealed to the ensemble- if you were a kid during the birth of video games, then most likely 8 bit graphics coupled with electronic beeps and boops lead to a tinge of nostalgia. But this original work isn’t simply about the history of Atari and the team that brought the fastest growing industry (some would even say, art form) to the world. It transcends its main plot to unfold stories about friendship, loyalty, and principles. It goes beyond the level of two-dimensional scrolling to bring forth the epic tale of sticking it to the big boss.

The story revolves around a band of hippy-loving-pot-smoking-no-sock-wearing videogame pioneers that get swallowed by Warner Bros, who in turn, transform their company to a commercial entity void of the heart and essence of its originators. It is obvious the ensemble of this production loves being a part of it, and as the old saying goes, if you’re having fun on stage, the audience will be having fun, too. It does take a good half hour to get into it, especially with much of the exposition needing to be delivered. Recently, much of the Chicago stage has fallen in love with the Aaron Sorkin type rapid fire dialogue and this show is no different. However, it feels like a trap when important information is flying at a hundred miles an hour, and the misunderstanding of a word can lead to straining to comprehend the whole idea. Unlike TV, there is no rewind button. The result of this fast pace is actually the opposite- the play drags by unsuccessfully attempting to turn the first half hour exposition into a marathon. Luckily, the vocal speech pattern of Will Cavedo, playing Stu, the Warner Bros representative, slows the dialogue to a normal pace and once the comedic timing of Lindsey Pearlman and Omer Abbas Salem find their way on stage, the last hour flies by leaving you wanting more. The ensemble was pretty solid: from Michael Peters’ convincing coke head to Wes Needham’s WOLF OF WALLSTREET moment. The costumes also need a mention as Nathan R. Rohrer clads the cast in perfect 70’s fashion. And of course, there was the catharsis – the courtroom drama turned video game battle that was geniusly choreographed and brought well deserved applause from the audience. What a delightful treat!

In the end, brilliant in their simplicity, video games can offer some resonating parallels to life. Some, facetiously ironic like Marcus Brigstocke’s observation that “If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.” Others, teaching us that at the end of every game over, there is countdown under a single word question…

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