EverScape, written by Triangle native Allan Maule, premiered at the 2015 New York Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) and was named one of the festival’s “Must-See” Shows (an honor given to only 5 of the nearly 200 productions). Maule is an actor, writer, and video game enthusiast whose personal and professional experiences have informed this extraordinarily unique play. He worked in the gaming industry for almost four years.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. This play is not about video games. Well, it is and it isn’t. Raleigh, NC director and fight choreographer Heather J. Strickland, who is directing Bare Theatre and Sonorous Road Productions’ North Carolina premiere of the show, admits that she was “interested more in the story than in the fight choreography.” According to Maule, the show is mostly about looking inward: “EverScape looks at how we choose to spend our time and life — and what this choice says about our world and ourselves.”
EverScape follows the day-to-day experiences of four MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) players. By day, they help old ladies reset their iPhones and serve coffee to suburban moms. But at home, headsets firmly on, they enter the online universe of EverScape. Here they can escape into a world where squabbles are about battle strategy and leveling-up, not mortgages and illness. But what tangible reward can such a skill set provide? Aren’t they just wasting time? As one character puts it, “We’re spending it.”
After its run in New York City, Maule decided to bring the play home, to Raleigh, and put it into the capable hands of Bare Theatre regular Heather Strickland.
“Heather’s background in fight choreography and dance made her the ideal director,” says Maule, who helped during the pre-production and casting process before stepping back into the shadows and leaving it to Strickland to make magic. Strickland had hesitations about some of the dialogue.
The way male gamers communicate is not a new phenomenon. Misogynistic, racist, and homophobic language permeates the online gaming culture; and Maule does not ignore that fact (though in reality, these guys are much, much worse). Strickland observes: “Allan pointed out that we can’t ignore the reality of it.”
And make magic Heather Strickland — and her team — did. With guidance from video game consultant Jeff Ligon, this complex production weaves seamlessly through more than a dozen real-world settings and virtual world of EverScape. Strickland’s direction, with support from assistant director Aneisha Montague, keeps up a thrilling pace — this is not a marathon, this is a sprint.
Stage manager Kelly Mahaffey and ASM Pimpila Violette have a lot going on here: quicker-than-quick costume changes, dozens of weapons, and eight actors, all working in the small space of the Sonorous Road Theatre.
Brett Stegall’s lighting design mimics video game flashes and color shifts, contrasting with the static lighting of the “real world.” When you have only six actors and four rolling chairs to communicate an entire subway ride, you need a top-notch designer such as Stegall to glue it together. It is only the show’s final lighting cue that feels out-of-place. A stronger shift in music may have alleviated some of the awkwardness.
Props master Ann Marie Crosmun has fleshed out the real and fantastic universes with a variety of high-tech and low-tech props. The weaponry in this piece is incredible, with some very new and exciting items (and upgrades) that I won’t reveal here.
Fight choreographer Jason Bailey, who teamed with Heather Strickland on Henry VI: War of the Roses last summer, is at the top of his game, combining a variety of styles and weapons to create a diverse but unified landscape of movement, showing great mastery of video game combat. “We worked the fights first,” says director Strickland, an expert fight choreographer herself. “That’s not usually how I work.”
Typically, she says, fights are added in once the show has its skeleton. In this case, however, the fights are the skeleton.
Costume designer Tara Nicole Williams has constructed a sharp, clean visual pattern. Lots of black gives a high-tech feel, especially in the stark blackness of the stage (there is no set). The characters’ armor is not realistic. Nor should it be. She has captured the less-than-polished nature of video game wardrobe with perfectly exaggerated elements. At the same time, Williams delivers some abstract design, with bold primary colors that contrast against the black baseline and draw the eye. Her work is subtle and on-target.
Music by video game and television composer Rod Abernethy and sound effects by G. Todd Buker give the show that final push over the edge that it needs to truly enter virtual territory, paying homage to the iconic soundscapes of sagas such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls, and World of Warcraft.
Director Heather Strickland has assembled a powerful fellowship of performers for this show: Sean A. Brosnahan (#heartbreaker) portrays Devo with trademark sincerity and honesty, allowing both his — and the character’s — vulnerabilities to peek through the curtain. Samantha Corey (#warriorqueen) as Kirin holds the show’s power in her grasp. With archery skills that rival Katniss Everdeen, Corey pushes Kirin’s physical and intellectual strength to the forefront and does so with wit and a smirk.
Areon Mobasher (#omghobbit) makes an impressive Bare Theatre debut as Foster, the group’s Tolkien-esque mage. He commands the stage with terrific physical and vocal presence, balancing the cockiness of a veteran gamer with the uncertainty of one who hasn’t known much success. Mobasher is an up-and-comer worth keeping tabs on.
Chris Hinton (#angstybro) digs deep into tough-guy Gil’s psyche, mining the pain and loneliness plaguing many whose social existence is contingent on Internet speed. He shows the balance between the joy of winning the game and the crippling defeat of losing it.
A quartet of NPCs (non-player characters) serves as a league of baristas, dads in Cosby sweaters, two-headed lizard monsters, and everything in between. Actor-fighters Hilary Edwards (#fierce), Tara Nicole Williams (#thatface), Matt Fields (#mistermoves), and George Labusohr (#damnboy) make the show feel enormous and bring enchantment to Allan Maule’s script.
With a truly ingenious perspective on human interaction and escapism, Allan Maule has written one of the most unique pieces of theater that I’ve ever seen. With Heather Strickland’s sharp direction, an expert design team, and a fearless cast of warriors bringing it to life, I’m naming EverScape the theatrical event of the season and the best show that I’ve seen so far this year.
This game is rated T for Teen. It contains fantasy violence and strong language. Gameplay lasts about 90 minutes with no intermission sidequest. Seating is general admission.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article106772777.html; and Oct. 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/everscape/Event?oid=5068324. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 11th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/10/everscape-is-a-witty-and-delightful-comedy-with-serious-social-overtones/.)
Bare Theatre and Sonorous Road Productions present EVERSCAPE at 8 p.m. Oct. 13-15, 2 p.m. Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Oct. 20-22, and 2 p.m. Oct. 23 at Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $18 ($10 students and $15 seniors and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-322-8819, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2642815.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/everscape/, https://www.sonorousroadtheatre.com/everscape/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/592362937613143/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMwcYucczJw and https://ksr-video.imgix.net/projects/2605428/video-702522-h264_high.mp4.
Bare Theatre: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, https://twitter.com/baretheatre, and https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBareTheatre.
Sonorous Road Productions: https://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad/, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
EverScape (2015 New York International Fringe Festival play): http://everscapetheplay.weebly.com/ (official website).
Allan Maule (Raleigh, NC playwright): http://www.allanmaule.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/allan.maule (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/maulerballer (Twitter page).
Heather J. Strickland (Raleigh, NC director and Bare Theatre community engagement director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570185297 (Facebook page).