The Dudleys

The Dudleys! is the latest work of theatre from the formidably imaginative pen and brain of Leegrid Stevens (Sun, Stand Thou Still; Post-Oedipus); it's part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City and whether you're interested in the human drama or the intersection of video gaming and theatre, I'd highly recommend that you sample this remarkable show. There are scenes in The Dudleys! that explore the possibilities of synching live action to recorded video and sound in exciting ways I've never before come across. And there's a depth and profundity in Stevens's examination of a family bound by family ties and little else that I found ineffably moving.

The pat way to explain The Dudleys! is to say it's a video game for the stage: it frames the lives of a Utah family—incidents both everyday and kind of momentous—within the construct of an '80s-style Atari game. At the beginning, we are introduced to the characters of the play, and as they enter and stand centerstage, information about them flashes on the screen behind them (their current health, their number of lives, their name, etc. are displayed along with an avatar). Most of them are members of the Dudley family: the mother, Clara; older brother Vic, younger brother Derek, and little sister Sylvia (who's going to Georgetown, as Clara loves to tell anyone listening). And extended family—Aunt Meg, a holistic healer who runs a cancer clinic, and her daughter Onna, who has run away from home. And there's a Dad too: Dead Tom, as he's billed in the program, for he died, of cancer, the day before the play/game takes place.

In scenes that are not chronological and that are presented in a variety of styles, we learn about the Dudleys before and after Tom's death. As I said, we see stuff that's obviously significant and lots more that feels trivial, at least on the surface. We observe the family at meals and in mourning; watching basketball games or playing video games. Vic and Derek reminisce about their Dad, Aunt Meg hinting that Clara killed Tom with her negative attitude, Clara announces out of nowhere that she might convert to Judaism. And we see scenes that put the characters' lives more overtly in adventure gaming mode: Derek versus the Portuguese in a scene depicting his mission (the Dudleys are Mormon); Derek and Vic versus the living dead patients of Aunt Meg's cancer clinic (on a trip to see their ailing father); Derek versus the Cops after he goes on a rampage inside a Wal-Mart store. These scenes, which feature astonishingly choreographed interaction among actors, video, and sound elements, are thrilling to watch and really unlike anything I've ever seen on stage.

It adds up to a compelling story of the family and its gradual disintegration, and in particular of Vic's realization that for all the support systems provided by parents, Church, community, and so on, each of us is finally very much on our own. The simple message of The Dudleys! is that the obstacles put before us as we negotiate the game of life will always seem too hard to master. Stevens offers hope, in the form of self-reliance and self-awareness, that makes us sure that Vic is not going to just throw up his hands and surrender or quit.

The technical aspects of The Dudleys! are spectacularly impressive, and include video by David Bengali, Angela Hill, Dan Monceaux, Camilo Munar, David Mauro, Jordan Rein, Josh Lampman, and Jake Witlen; lighting by Joe Novak; scenic design by Kara Zeigon; costumes by Nicole Wee; choreography by Melinda Rebman (which is fantastic!); and music by Stevens himself. The play's director, Matt Torney, has not only managed to bring this inordinately complicated piece to successful fruition within the confines of a festival environment; he's also led the excellent cast of ten to superb performances whose complexity belies the presumed two-dimensionality of adventure game heroes and villains. Erin Treadway, a frequent collaborator of Stevens, gives an extraordinary portrayal of great depth and maturity as Clara; I was also enormously touched by Meg McLynn's work as Aunt Meg. The younger Dudleys are played by Craig Bridger (Vic), Brandon Bales (Derek), Diana Ruppe (Sylvia), and Wrenn Schmidt (Onna)—these actors are able to age convincingly from teenagers to adults and they find the questing hearts and souls inside each of these young people. Casey Robinson, Josh Levine, and David Wylie are seemingly everywhere in multiple roles. And Eric Slater, as Dead Tom, offers a fine portrayal of the man whose demise is the catalyst for everything that happens in the play.

Stevens himself looms over the entire proceedings, almost always from the sidelines, running sound and perhaps video; he appears on stage a couple of times to start or restart the "game," suggesting the omnipotence layer (God/the infinite) that the discourse within the play pointedly never touches upon.

Both as an innovative work of multimedia/multi-disciplinary theatre and an incisive and introspective exploration of the frail human condition, The Dudleys! has much to offer audiences. It's one of the most exciting theatre experiences I've had this year. And it portends astonishing new directions for Stevens and his collaborators.