Normally in a theatre setting, audience members are encouraged to sit back, relax and enjoy the performance. That’s still implied at Theatre Wit’s most recent original play “ENGAGE: A Choose Your Own Sci-Fight Adventure,” but there’s a slight spin on that formula.
It’s playwright and actor Brendan Stallings that has crafted a unique experience for one single participant and of course, the rest of the audience members. As the futuristic space techno lingers before the performance, the neon lights illuminate the space gadgets on stage readying for a whirlwind of whimsical goofiness.
The “sci-fight” adventure show is guided to play on tropes of the sci-fi genre, but more often than not, Stallings’ interactive piece hurls us right into them, portraying a collection of on-stage choreographed fight scenes that are so busy with grunts it becomes comical.
We are aboard a lone little spaceship (let’s call it “The Crusher” as did the lucky participant) and are introduced to the wacky crew that is along for the 75-minute ride. There are many issues aboard “The Crusher” and someone from the audience must guide the cast mates through their struggles to make the decisions that will eventually decide their fate and relentlessly get “The Crusher” back to wherever it came from.
Y (Kali Skatchke) is the Interstellar Space Guide who charismatically organizes the “Player” to create names for the ship and crew, complete on-stage puzzles and roll a triangular numbered space device that will determine the outcomes of obstacles that are unique to every performance. Looking like a gold spray-painted Statue of Liberty, the Space Guide keeps us on track and verbalizes when the audience engagement is necessary.
Let’s meet the rest of the crew. There’s the selfish Smuggler (Marcus Cunningham as “Chaz”) with his nifty shot with a Nerf gun that often gets him out of trouble and the Android (Ben Albovias as “Buzz 36”) who shuffles around to the best of his ability as a robot. Plus, there’s even a Space Monk (Kate Vargulich as “Skippy”) the compassionate worshiper of Goddess Foon and the Villain (Brendan Stallings as “Oh-Oh”) most-notably the strongest performance of the ensemble and last but not least, is the Alien (Cat McKay as “Ravager of Glorp”). These eccentric names, obviously given by the “Player”, are utilized throughout the show for on-the-spot decisions.
What transpires are three intersecting but lone adventures (the player decides which character gets to do what task) that leads to an assortment of on-stage puzzles that the player must complete. As the Villain “Oh-Oh” slowly loses his power as the player one by one gains momentum, the fate of all of the characters rely on the player’s decisions. “ENGAGE: A Choose Your Own Sci-Fight Adventure” is able to experimentally try things that are often not accessible on stage. The innovation behind the idea is a fun one, but the execution is a display of confusion as to whom this play is for and what it is for.
“ENGAGE: A Choose Your Own Sci-Fight Adventure” runs through Aug. 25 at Theatre Wit at 1229 W. Belmont. Performances are Thurs. through Sat. at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $5 for repeat performances with a ticket stub.