REVIEW – Game On – San Jose Rep

So the Rep has been batting .400 this season…

Yeah, sorry, I can’t do it. I don’t even know what that means. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t get baseball. I’ll give you a second to get over that. There. Can we move on now? Great. Baseball definitely plays a significant part in San Jose Rep’s current show Game On, but it’s got so much else going on for it, you can, like me, be ignorant of most things baseball and still really enjoy this production.

Aside from hockey (which I adore on every level possible for some odd reason) I’m not a big sports fan. What I do get though is the spectator sport that involves watching OTHER people (namely guys, because I’m a girl and I’m kind of hardwired that way) WATCH SPORTS. Watching anyone be passionate about anything is pretty fun, but a sporting event somehow brings out the savage actor in people. They get big, over-the-top, loud, they use fabulously colorful language and they invent new facial expressions on a minute by minute basis. Observing collective joy (and agony) is quite enjoyable and Game On has some really well done, hilarious opportunities to engage along with or simply appreciate from the sidelines, a rousing display of “game talk.”

On the whole, this is a genuinely original script, heavy with intelligent, well-paced, believable dialogue. I didn’t spend time in my head comparing it to something else and that’s a rarity for me. It did a decent job of sucking me in relatively quickly. This is certainly due in large part to our two main characters who are easy to like and easy to feel for. They are desperately flawed and tightly wound, but somehow also both adorable and painfully empathetic. The actors ARE good and the characters too are “putting on a show” both because of the game they’re watching and the pitch they’re about to throw out to a Venture Capitalist. It’s a nice thematic parallel with some rousing and poetic choices which I very much appreciated.

I think the biggest surprise was the arc of this play. Be forewarned; while comedy dominates the first half/inning (you see what I did there? Okay fine, I’ll stop) it takes a real turn to the dark side in the second half. This is a high stakes play, with a realistic intensity that kind of blindsides you. It builds well (as a good play should) but it does take you on a bit of an edgy and uncomfortable ride. While entertaining, I can’t say this is a light show ultimately, so just be ready for some seriously unnerving drama.

The Silicon Valley is the butt of many jokes throughout the 90 minute (no intermission) show and while they aren’t always the kindest of stabs or stereotypes, as a native, I have to say they kinda nailed that aspect of it. I’m pretty sure I’ve been in that EXACT Los Altos house before and I feel like I totally KNOW these people. The Silicon Valley feel was helped along with a clever use of video and music that aided in indicating the passage of time and smoothly concealing scene changes. Technically the show didn’t SEEM overly complex or demanding, but that may honestly have been due to the slick efforts of a solid technical team. They certainly made it look real and thus…easy.

On the flip side, I had just a few things that didn’t sit well with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy our female characters commitment to baseball at all. I wanted her far more abrasive and confident in her delivery somehow. I needed more control and demonstration of her power to allow me to believe she is where she is in the world she is moving in. I also would have been fine without the last 10 minutes of the play. I could have easily traded some closure for the omission of a very, very dark quasi-tangent that fell short in both the humor and the realistic departments. Up until that point I was sold, but ultimately I think the deal fell through with an idea that maybe went just a bit too far for me.

Those minor tweaks aside, it’s a smart show with some dynamic performances and clever twists. 4 well-earned stars for a new and fresh feeling show, with suspense, fun and a social conscience to boot. Game On plays through April 19th at the San Jose Repertory Theatre in Downtown San Jose.

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