Figueroa's 8-Bit Warrior
Fun Retro ‘80’s Comedy At The Alchemist
Vince Figueroaâ€™s 8 Bit Warrior has been a comedy that Iâ€™ve been looking forward to forÂ while. Honestly, Iâ€™m not exactly sure what I expected but the premise sounded interesting. What little had been released about the show early-on sounded like fun, though. Itâ€™s a huge relief that Figueroaâ€™s comic tribute to the pop culture of the 1980â€™s didnâ€™t suck. Itâ€™s an even bigger relief that the show ends up being a great deal of fun in spite of numerous flaws.
Charismatic, young actor Rob Maass plays Will Daviesâ€”a high school kid whose self-esteem is intimately tied to his mastery of Donkey Kong. Anne Graff LaDisa plays Becky Walsh, the beautiful girl who wants to be his girlfriendâ€”and would probably do so if she could ever pry him away from the coin-up Donkey Kong at the local pizza parlor. Matt Kemple plays the new kid in town . . . a cocky guy who just moved to the Midwest from California who isnâ€™t that bad at Donkey Kong himself . . .
Figueroaâ€™s script draws a lot of its charm from an apparent love of John Hughes films. Not being a huge fan of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club or Ferris Beuller, a part of me was expecting to cringe through much of the show . . . thankfully, Figueroa;s appreciation for the late directorâ€™s work translates really well to the stage. If anything, the schmaltzy sentimentality of the classic 1980â€™s coming-of-age comedy has a kind of immediacy to it onstage that it lacks behind a glowing screen.
Rob Maass is exceedingly good at rendering a character with some depth onstage without compromising the comedy. As his nemesis Jesse Stackhouse, Kemple does most of his best work simply looking like a high school villain in a 1980â€™s coming-of-age comedy. Costuming, posturing and cocky line delivery give the character all the depth he needs. Sketch comedy group Broadmindedâ€™s Ann Graff LaDisa holds down the emotional end of the play remarkably well almost entirely on her own. The character sheâ€™s playing here is quite clearly a tribute to every character Molly Ringwald ever played in the â€˜80â€™s. Having the character show-up at a Halloween party dressed as the actress is one of a few endearingly clever bits of unspoken comedy in the show. Her interest in Kempleâ€™s character prompts a Rick Springfield reference that I really shouldâ€™ve seen coming . . .
LaDisa does a really good job of bringing a realistic, intelligent, fully fleshed-out female element to the play that provides a great deal of depth for the production. Her look is a perfect rendering of the era right down to the make-up. And some of the â€˜80â€™s fashion she sports here is thanks to costuming work by Broadmindedâ€™s Stacy Babl, who blessed the production with a perfectly preserved prom dress from nearly two decades ago. Itâ€™s little elements like thatâ€”the little bits of the â€˜80â€™s that help make this a lot of fun even when the rhythm of the comedy falters a bit.
Much of the rest of the cast has fallen into very characteristic â€˜80â€™s film comedy roles quite effectively. Lee Rowley gets some really good lines and delivers them really well . . . here heâ€™s playing Willâ€™s friend Tony. Beth Lewinski is perfectly centered as Willâ€™s mother. Her portrayal of the traditional â€˜80â€™s comedy film mother makes it to the stage with comic precision and a sense of subtlety thatâ€™s a lot of fun to watch. Tyler Kroll shows similarly inspired precision in a variety of awkward, comically goofy adult roles that help flesh out the â€˜80â€™s comedy feel of the show. Jenna Wetzel makes a memorable turn as the sexy sex-ed teacher. Itâ€™s a stereotype that probably never actually showed-up in an â€˜80â€™s coming of age comedy, but along with all of the rest of the cast, Wetzelâ€™s comic performance here fits-in perfectly. Â
The â€˜80â€™s pop cultural references are all a bit jumbledâ€”and they get a bit tedious in places, but they never slow the overall comic rhythm of the show. Things also falter a bit during scene changes . . . which actually move along pretty quickly, but linger just long enough to slow things down a bit. Mood transitions between scenes sometimes feel a bit stiff. The idea of having staged puppet renderings of classic video games onstage is clever, but they feel a bit clunky in places. This is particularly jarring during the Donkey Kong face-off at the end of the comedy. That being said, the video game segments are still a lot of fun. Possibly the most accomplished of the staged video game renderings was a surprisingly accurate Duck Hunt complete with perfectly-timed sound effects and music. It may not have the name recognition of many of the rest of the games from the '80's, but it seemed to have a far bigger reaction from the audience than any of the other games represented in the show.
Itâ€™s not terribly deep, but it still manages to be just a bit ambitious. And though it doesn't always quite accomplish the comic mood that itâ€™s trying to achieve, 8-Bit Warrior is a great deal of fun. Itâ€™s well worth a trip to the Alchemist.
8-Bit Warrior runs now through April 11th at the Alchemist Theatre.