Los Angeles Theater Review: FATHERS AT A GAME (Moving Arts Hyperion Station)

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by Tony Frankel on April 21, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

WHICH GAME IS ON?

Luke Baybak and Tony Williams in FATHERS AT A GAME.With the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival set to begin in June, I decided to check out Fathers at a Game. I was curious to see why this 50-minute three-hander was being billed as “The Best of Fringe – 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival.” After seeing it, I was bemused that this play which straddled that fine line between successful and unsuccessful won an award for the best show at the Fringe. Turns out that the “Best of Fringe” is a shortened version of “Best of Hollywood Fringe Extensions,” a co-produced commercial extension of the festival in which Executive Producer Matthew Quinn and a small selection team chooses productions with “artistic merit, commercial viability, and development potential, [providing] groups with a platform to further develop their work and explore the possibility of longer runs.”

Wendy Elizabeth Abraham, Luke Baybak and Tony Williams in FATHERS AT A GAMEThe Selection Committee chose 41 shows in 2013, including the terrific Sunny Afternoon (see my review) and the god-awful Philosophy in the Boudoir (see my review). The shows played at Quinn’s Theatre Asylum and other locations. While I think it’s an interesting idea to help certain shows continue their run, the “Best of Fringe” title also sends a message to the public that selected shows are worthy of an award. Regardless of the phrases “development potential” and “further develop their work,” I also wonder if selectees believe their show commendable enough to be frozen and leave it at that. After all, with a tag line like “The Best,” there may be money to be made—or as the web site claims: “Past winners of Best of Fringe have gone on to tour at Fringe festivals across the country and have enjoyed successful local runs.” “Winners.”

Wendy Elizabeth Abraham, Luke Baybak and Tony Williams in FATHERS AT A GAME.Playwright Trey Nichols’ fascinating premise of Fathers at a Game begins with Moe (Tony Williams) and Eddie (Luke Bayback), who sit on some steps watching their sons play football. Quite soon, not all is what it seems: Too much attention is placed on the “crisp, fall day”; wives’ names are forgotten; Moe is irrationally manic; Eddie has searing pain in one leg; they profess to be in their forties but look far younger; and Danijel Sraka’s projection design of an outdoor field looks like a video game. Unsurprisingly (for me, anyway), it turns out they are involved with the invention of their own game as a way to deal with either battle fatigue or PTSD. It’s not certain until a badly hurt female soldier (Wendy Elizabeth Abraham) enters the scene blaming alpha male Moe for the ambush which has injured Eddie; within minutes, the two men allow her to die. The remaining half hour has the soldiers turning the tables as Eddie begins to dominate the scene.

Unfortunately, the play leaves many questions unanswered, and fails to be a searing psychological study in the vein of Albee’s The Zoo Story or Shaffer’s Sleuth. The tension in the production arises from a shouting match (which needed to be reeled in by director Vesna Hocevar) and a curiosity as to how it will play out (which it doesn’t). Mr. Nichols’ adequate dialogue doesn’t plumb the depths of the themes it brings up, including seclusion, miscommunication, and dehumanization; the Luke Baybak and Tony Williams in FATHERS AT A GAMEmetaphorical language isn’t tied to a concrete circumstance. If we don’t know these people, it’s difficult to invest in the game they play in order to survive.

The one-act may have been more compelling at 30 minutes or less, or it could have been extended to add backstory and an explanation of what actually happened in Iraq. Moving Arts (best known for their Car Plays) originally produced the play for its one-act festival in 1995, brought it to the 2013 Fringe, and has decided that it’s fit to have a run in its Hyperion Station theater. As it stands, the play is a device which wears out its welcome. The work clearly needs to be further developed. But if it’s already a “winner,” why should it be?

photos by Rich Clark

Fathers at a Game
presented by Moving Arts
Moving Arts Hyperion Station
1822 Hyperion Ave. in Silverlake
plays through April 27, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 472-5646 or visit www.MovingArts.org

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