Sunday, October 12, 2008

Toying with Death at Capital Stage

Tommy Damotta (Cole Alexander Smith) and Kerry Davis (Sam Misner) relish creating a violent video game.

“First Person Shooter,” at Capital Stage, is all about playing the blame game in today’s violent American culture. Inspired by Columbine, and its aftermath of homegrown suicide bombers, it focuses on a murder inspired by a violent video game. It asks the question: “Who’s responsible for violence by young people imitating what they see on a computer screen?”

In the end we still don’t know. Current research is inconclusive.

Berkeley playwright Aaron Loeb, who’s active in the video-game industry, shows us an authentic picture of a small company that generates such games. We see Kerry Davis (Sam Misner), the main creative geek at JetPack Games, as he takes delight in his latest technological triumph. He explains to his cohorts, Tommy (Cole Alexander Smith) and Tamar (Megan Pearl Smith), how he can simulate what actually happens to a leg when a bullet breaks through its bone.

But a shock upsets the creative delight when JetPack is sued by the family of an African-American boy shot to death in a rural Illinois town. His white assassins were inspired by Megaton, the company’s most popular game. The crime takes on racist overtones when we learn that the attackers wore costumes labeled “the Clan.”

The change of “Klan” to “Clan” is one of the cute devices of the game. What’s more, the victim closely resembled a black bad guy in the scenario.

Among the three JetPack members, Tamar, who is Jewish, is the most torn by the dilemma–whether to accept or reject responsibility–at least at first. The suit could bankrupt the company–yet was the game solely responsible? What about the stupid boys who acted out the story? Tommy, the self-serving pragmatist, is not conflicted; he zeroes in on winning.

Kerry is scheduled for a TV interview and Tommy coaches him, offering a creepy prediction of what we saw in this year’s presidential debates. He advises Kerry to “answer the question you wished they’d ask.”

Kerry is the most deeply troubled. He recognizes that the plot of his game, and its African-American villain, were inspired by a horrible catastrophe in his own life.

In the second act we also share the poignant grief of the victim’s father, Daniel Jamison (Adrian Roberts), plus the agony of his white second wife, Rose (Karyn Casl). At first she feels that his grief is more than she can bear, but she can’t leave and instead expresses her love for him, cradling his head in her arms.

Much credit for a powerful production goes not only to a fine cast, including Ed Lee in multiple roles, but also to Molly Aaronson-Gelb, the director, who has worked extensively with Loeb before. Credit also goes to Jonathan Williams and Steve Decker, respectively, for striking set and lighting designs, where large dark blocks transform into backlit projections of what appear to be the inner workings of the characters’ minds.

“First Person Shooter” continues through November 2 aboard the Delta King at 1000 Front Street in Old Sacramento. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 through $30, depending on performance date. Dinner and show combinations are also available. Call (916) 995-5464. See also

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