The Gameplay produced by Young and Crazy Collective playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival explores loneliness, competitiveness and the need for connection during either the saddest or more sinister party ever held.
I’m someone who doesn’t particularly like reality. It’s why I review theatre and why I like books and movies and especially video games, because they give me a chance to escape the real world and experience something outside the sometimes crushing void that we all face every day.
So I was very interested in seeing The Gameplay, which tells the story of Ben, the best player in a competitive online game who happens to be a shut-in with minimal contact with other people outside his gaming acquaintances. Attempting to break out of his shell while still maintaining some semblance of safety he invites the other 9 best players of the game to his house for a friendly get together, but sadly only one other player arrives; one whose intentions are a lot more complicated than simply having a few games of checkers with her rival.
There’s no denying that The Gameplay is a funny show; from Ben’s clumsy attempts at party hosting to the strange behavior of his guest, Ada, it’s clear the audience is intended to laugh at the strange pairing of these two weirdos. The play isn’t content to just rely on embarrassment humour however, and much of the show is filled with some really quiet and personal moments sold with just enough nuance to not make the story too maudlin.
Both Ryan Gordon Taylor and Natalie Scagnetto deserve credit for this. It could have been incredibly easy to make Ben an insufferable loser or Ada a plastic villain, but instead it’s clear both actors have taken the time to find the underlying vulnerability of their characters and bring it to the forefront in their performances.
Which makes the runtime of The Gameplay so tragic. I would have been more than happy to watch these two connect with and confront each other for an hour and a half, but sadly they only had fifty minutes to tell their story and it felt they needed at least another twenty to really flesh out the conclusion. Without those twenty minutes the ending felt rushed and didn’t feel as earned as it could have.
That being said, the collective (Taylor, Scagnetto and Alison Beckwith) knew what they were trying to say in creating this piece and the story they wanted to tell. In facing that limited running time they made the choice to focus on the characters getting to know each other, and Ben’s vulnerability instead of their eventual conflict. This difficult decision was likely for the best as it allowed the audience to be engaged enough with the characters that we cared about, even if it wasn’t the most satisfying conclusion.
Rushed ending aside The Gameplay is a cool little show and well worth your Fringe time, especially if you like seeing emerging artists showcase their craft. I have no doubt that the Young and Crazy Collective have a bright future within Toronto’s theatre scene and I hope they get enough support this year to develop this show more for the future, and come back with something even better next year.
- The Gameplay plays at The Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst Street)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Parental guidance advised.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
Wed. July 4: 10:30pm
Sat. July 7: 6:00pm
Mon. July 9: 7:00pm
Wed. July 11: 9:30pm
Thurs. July 12: 2:00pm
Fri. July 13: 5:30pm
Sun. July 15: 2:00pm
Photo of Ryan Gordon Taylor and Natalie Scagnetto by Barry McCluskey