Toronto Fringe Review: Searching for Party

This summer, the newly-forged Arcturus Players are rocking the Canadian Fringe circuit. Searching for Party, their latest show, talks about our favourite thing: video games. But, how does a play about watching gamers do their thing actually work? Much better than you might think.

Tailor-made for Fringe Festivals, Searching for Party is more than just a story. It combines gaming with live theatre, the two biggest passions of its players. (Pun intended). Although grounded in realism (for the most part), its no snoozefest. It is not often that I can say that something literally made me laugh and cry, but this group pulled it off.

In this brand new drama-comedy, ‘Love Actually’ meets ‘Dragon Age’ in all the right ways. Through a series of sketches, we explore gamers of all walks of life and why they play.  A healer on his noise-cancelling headset unwittingly helps a couple through an argument. A bride-to-be tricks her spouse into doing housework by assigning gamer-scores to tasks. A dudebro and a Gaymer form an unlikely friendship over multi-player. We get thoughtful and diverse characters, with some refreshing divergence from gender roles to boot. Female nerds are not put on pedestals or made into “geeky goddesses”. Geeks have struggles, but they don’t get beat up for lunch money. Take note, Big Bang Theory, because this is a company that actually knows how to write nerds.

Additionally, the timing of this play couldn’t be better. Last year we saw a flame war within the gaming industry – the one we won’t mention, involving gates. In the fallout, this group of artists tasked themselves with reconciling fandom. Whether noob or trophy-hunter, man or woman, we are all in this together.

The cast is an ensemble of 4, but they do double roles well. Each character feels unique, with witty things to say on the nature of gaming and pop culture. Binge-playing Candy Crush is OK, but not World of Warcraft? If you found a magic sword and it summoned you onto a quest, would you go? How do you pronounce ‘AT-AT Walker’ anyway? We face questions big and small about gamer culture here, but it never feels trifling.

Its an agreeable piece but, ‘designed for fringe fests’ can be a double-edged sword. Although original and amusing, some production aspects are more polished than others. The video game itself could be a stronger character, maybe with the help of more robust sound design. The scene transitions use a blackout while moving set pieces, which isn’t bad, but theatre artists use it perhaps too often. Plus, as much as I don’t like to nitpick other artists, it wastes the potential for a ‘loading screen’ gag. A little meta can go a long way, after all. Though a fun show by all means, there’s still achievements for unlocking in its future.

Searching for Party is worth the time of any gaming fan. It is unapologetic, sentimental, and a salute to a past-time and industry that so many of us love. And at its core, it’s about love. Whether you’re a noob or a seasoned fanatic, it’s dangerous to go alone.

Searching for Party plays as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, running until July 10th. Tickets are available through the Fringe website, or at the Festival box office.

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