Duplicitous double-dealing is the heart and soul of “Game Show,”which opened Saturday night at Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival’s Dinner Theatre at the Visual and Performing Arts Center in Durant, Oklahoma. The audience of the production was itself duped and dizzied by the “play-within-a-play” dualities worthy of any Shakespearean comedy.
Game Show, written by Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton, was first produced Off-Broadway in 2000, but has since been produced throughout the U.S. and Canada. The fun of the production is in the interactive dynamic between the stage and the audience.
And that fun unfolds quite unexpectedly: As the Durant audience gradually became aware of the pre-production activity of the ensuingplay, they quickly found that they were, in fact, both audience and players of the liveTV audience of the play. Audience members become on-stage guests and contestants in a “live” broadcast of a long-running, popular televised game show. But even as the members of the audience played their parts, they came to realize that they were being “played,” along with the game show host, in the double-cross scheme by the producers. The ambiguity is in the question: Which producers in which show?
Dell McClain gave a brilliant performance as Game Show Host Troy Richards, as he navigated his character between pompous celebrity, rakish womanizer, and victim of heartless movers-and-shakers of the television industry.
Riley Rizzo Coker skillfullyforges the role of Ellen Ryan, the no-nonsense Line Producer, who shows just a hint of the” player” herself in her managerial operations.
A surprise to both the audience and the Game Show plot came in the performance of a newcomer to the OSF stage, Taylor Jackson, whose duplicitous role was masterfully played even before the audience was seated.
Dustin Curry, as the young and naïve producer’s assistant Johnny Wilderma , immediately courted the audience’s sympathy in his delivery as an eager and sincere greenhorn. Nick Crowell, as Steve Fox, an up-and-coming Assistant Producer, has the look, the voice, and the posturing of Ryan Seacrest, American Idol producer and host. The resemblance cannot go unnoticed in the play.
The crude, street smart, but tech-savvy antics of the stagecrew of the television production were played by Joseph Miller, Aaron Rains, and Boomer Lowry. The comic relief provided by this trio was expertly played in their roles as commonplace heroes, the behind-the-scenes working man. In everything from costume to body language, they were the quintessential Everyman. They are the embodiment of “making it happen,” on stage and off, and in the end, they do.
The clever casting of cast member Minda Rocha as Minda Rocha, the make-up artist in the TV production, cannot be overlooked as I peer into the theme of reflections and reality in the play. In the TV production of this play within a play, she was seldom allowed to complete her work of total re-make as an artist—there was always some reality left to peek through the artifice of her work.
Directed by Charles Prosser, Game Show appeals to its home audience by not only referencing nationally televised celebrities and shows that the audience can see reflected in the “Game Show” format, but also to localisms and celebrities such as Reba McEntire, who have a hometown connection to this area. The casting and design of the production was original, stimulating, and a reflection of modern life and experiences, made orderly and comprehensible through several stage splits and action areas.
Despite any surmised interpretations we may visit upon the experience of participating in Game Show, the bottom line is always fun. From the suspicious successes of the contestants, to the seemingly unexplained foghorn buzzer ( was it really random?), to the live performance onstage being framed and focused for the television screen, Game Show is a funhouse, a house of mirrors where, at every turn, the audience encounters the duplicitous reflections of reality.It is a reflection of our lives and our times—on stage!