by Charles C Bales · August 22, 2015
Kristopher Dean | Matt Dean
Step 1: Insert quarter. Step 2: Press play. Step 3: Enter the dark, dangerous, and delightful world of dungeon, now playing on the 64E4 Mainstage in the East Village as part of FringeNYC 2015.
Using little more than a scrim, shadow puppets, and an assortment of light sources, a talented and tireless quintet of young performers from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati create an onstage action-adventure video game that is equal parts harrowing and humorous.
Created by Artistic Abandon NYC and Hits the Lights, Dad!, dungeon features an intrepid hero (played with a heart-pounding sincerity by Kristopher Dean), who is desperately searching for his sister (Mikayla Stanley, also one of the puppeteers). She has fallen into a seemingly bottomless chasm and he follows her into the dark depths, encountering a series of challenges in his attempt to rescue her. A handy map in the show’s program outlines the various realms in which our “player” must battle fearsome foes or join forces with new friends before moving on — or circle back to do battle again.
dungeon utilizes very little dialogue to communicate its story, with heavy breathing, cries for help, and menacing echoes supplementing its mostly nonverbal nature. An atmospheric soundtrack provides just the right amount of doom and gloom to the proceedings, as played live on electric guitar and bass by the musician/puppeteer/performers.
Those same performers (including Claron Hayden, Casey Scott Leach, and Kyle Nunn) also do an amazing job becoming the assorted creatures that lurk in the darkness, using their own bodies as set pieces and a minimum of props to create the underground series of caves in which dungeon takes place.
The uncomplicated shadow puppetry is effectively employed in devising a make-believe world that is both whimsical and deadly serious. A particularly formidable (and giant) spider is one of the best bits in a show full of magical theater-making.
There’s a sprinkling of Resident Evil and visual allusions to The Blair Witch Project as well as references to other horror survival video games and scary movies strewn about dungeon. Giving away too much would spoil the many joys of the tightly paced 45-minute show. A lot of its action takes place in the dark, dramatically contributing to a sinister feeling of the unknown and the unexpected. But there is nothing so scary that children of all ages cannot enjoy dungeon — unless they’re truly afraid of the dark.