"Merge" Review - The New Colony's world premiere at The Den Theatre

“Merge”, The New Colony play directed by Andrew Hobgood about the rise and fall of Atari and it’s takeover by Warner, Inc. currently being shown at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee, through November 13, is as much about the different corporate cultures of those two entities as it is about the facts surrounding the birth of the gaming industry.

Stephanie Shum and Kevin Stangler with the cast of "Merge"

 

It’s a paean to hippie genius and non-conformity, with good reason- when the corporate suits got involved, the “music” died. However, trying to condense decades of facts into a 90 minute comedy necessarily means truncating reality and conflating it into a limited viewpoint- that’s just the nature of theater. So, while you can’t expect to get the whole story of what happened to this industry in an hour and a half in this cozy theater from this classy production, you can certainly expect to see a fast-paced play that offers a lot of laughs, a great story, and some fine acting on a really funky set.

Michael Peters, Kevin Stangler, Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr., Stephanie Shum, Lindsey Perlman, Cavedo and Omer Abbas Salem

Wriiten by Spenser Davis, this smart and engaging world premiere features a talented and funny cast consisting of Will Cavedo, Fin Coe, Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr., Daria Harper, Wes Needham, Kristi Parker-Narnhart, Lindsay Pearlman, Victoria Perez, Michael Peters, Esteban Reyna, Robert Salazar, Omer Abbas Salem, Evan Sesek, Stephanie Shum, Kevin Stangler and David Weiss; together they skilfully portray a great many characters. Special mention should be made here of Lindsey Pearlman who stole every scene she appeared in with her terrific deadpan delivery and effortless gum-chewing physical comedy. Also, Daria Harper is a gem in her sophisticated portrayal of a ruthless corporate queen-mother.

Michael Peters, Kevin Stangler, Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr., Stephanie Shum, Lindsey Perlman, Fin Coe, Will Cavedo and Omer Abbas Salem

 

 Kudos to John Wilson for scenic design, Paul Deziel for projections design, Steve Labedz for sound design and John Kelly for lighting design; being in the audience is like being inside a vividly colored arcade itself- sometimes, almost as loud! However, the amplified and exaggerated voices and noise level serve to focus the work on the nature of gaming before the ubiquitous use of muting and earbuds.

Lindsey Perlman and Will Cavedo

“Atari” means “you are about to be engulfed”; it is to “Go” what “Checkmate” is to “Chess”- and a prescient choice for the moniker of what became the world’s largest producer of video games. In 1972, Atari launched “Pong”, “a crude equivalent of table tennis”, thereby launching a revolution in the way the world played games. Begun by two friends with no funds, the politics of business unfortunately triumphed over the bonds of their friendship, if we are to believe the script.

Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr., David Weis and Will Cavedo with the cast of The New Colony's world premiere of "Merge"

The best parts of this tale are those that celebrate the loose creative culture and strong personal relationships formed in the early years before the merger. We are invited to believe that not wearing socks, consuming junk food and getting high inspired genius level creativity. Similarly, the scenes demonstrating the evils of the corporate takeover with it’s anti-humanist tactics are compellingly- if simplistically- drawn. Still, the story beneath the story is a wonderful Horatio Alger “boy plus friends make good” saga. The author did a good job, also, in portraying how the demise of this creator of games was probably due as much to the merged company's inability to control copycat game cartridge knockoff quality as it was to the heavy-handed driving out of creative genius.

Will Cavedo, Kevin Stangler, David Weiss and Robert Salazar

The production is enthusiastic, irreverent and well-done; it’s highly recommended.

The New Colony collabortes with emerging artists of all disciplines with the goal of "exploring enticing subject matter and the common language of experience". For more information, and to purchase tickets, go to The New Colony website

For information and tickets to other fine performances at The Den Theatre, go to the Den Theatre website

 

 

All photos courtesy of Evan Hanover

 

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