Minnesota Fringe Festival: No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying

SHOW TITLE: No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying
PRODUCER: 1UP Productions
HAILING FROM: Illinois
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Two 80s kids build a life-long bond upon their love of Super Mario Bros. Set upon a giant Nintendo with wild 8-bit music, this comedy romp with a dash of heartbreak takes friendship and love to the next level.

When I was a kid, Final Fantasy was my drug of choice. The games in the series are infamously long, and the underlying mechanic mind-numbingly simple: to play through an endless series of turn-based battles, improving your characters’ skills until reaching a sufficient level to undertake the next series of turn-based battles. (In other words, absolutely designed for kids with compulsive tendencies.) There’s an epic fantasy story taking place in the background, and it’s rarely impressive, usually composed of a hodge-podge of tired fantasy cliches (and I’m saying this as a kid who grew up reading Dragonlance novels, for fuck’s sake).

But it was impossible not to get swept up into them. There’s a reason why so many members of my generation get choked up watching this really shitty scene, and it’s not because of its masterful execution: it’s because we spent weeks projecting ourselves into that fictional world, and it’s not something we played, it’s something that was happening to us. The thousand triumphs and tragedies of childhood paled before the fact that I got to spend a couple hours a day saving the goddamn world. So a lot of these sounds and lines and images resonate because they’re hacking directly into the pleasure centers of my brain. That’s how nostalgia works.

But references alone aren’t sufficient. I spent more than enough time with Mario and Luigi growing up to plant me smack in the middle of the target audience for this show, and consequently I was hooked in the first few minutes — for the same reason that the audience that didn’t grow up with those experiences will spend the first few minutes feeling quite alienated, I should think. It helps that the show is technically well-executed: its central prop is surprisingly versatile, and the sound design is mapped to the performance with an astonishing level of precision.

The show description calling this a “comedy romp” is misleading: this is melodrama, pure and simple. Punctuated by jokes and pop-culture references, yes, but at its core this is a Lifetime special. It’s textbook bromance that neatly illustrates my generation’s discomfort with open sentiment, our need to couch any expression of true feeling in sarcasm and insults, profanity and brutality. At times, and particularly towards the end, the analogy between their lives and the game becomes cringe-inducingly on-the-nose. (We can handle subtlety, I promise!)

But those are technical issues, borne out of too many years of watching and writing and reviewing. The fact is that I sat there the whole time with a big dumb smile on my face. This is strictly for members of a specific subculture, I think: but I belong to it, and boy howdy did I have a great time.

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