@Playaz Review – Gamers Forever

Brandon Bales, Justin Huen, and Dustin Green in @PLAYAZ - Photo by Jill Bennett
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Modern technology strikes again! Did you ever wonder what happens when preteens and adolescents who have an umbilical connection to cyberspace grow up? How about those kids whose main portal into society is social media? Gaming? @PLAYAZ explores those questions and more during this rampaging technological age where today’s kids don’t even remember a time before computers and the internet. Playwright Dana Schwartz raises some profound issues as she delves into the psyches of grown-ups who experienced the world since childhood primarily through their exploration of the cyber world. Moving Arts presents the world premiere of @PLAYAZ in their new home, the Atwater Playhouse in Atwater Village.

Justin Huen and Dustin Green – Photo by Jill Bennett

Alan (Justin Huen) and Charlie (Brandon Bales) have been besties since they were old enough to hold a game control. In fact, they were originally part of a trio which included Charlie’s sister Maddie – who became Alan’s wife. Now both men (they did grow up and now approach middle age) deeply mourn Maddie’s passing, another experience for them to share. Alan is now a psychiatrist, and Charlie is an IT expert and businessman – but both remain tied to their youth through the lingering fun offered in gaming. In fact, they are creating an empire of millions of followers who see gaming as the center of their universe. Now Joe (Dustin Green), an expert player, has joined them to sponsor a massive world-wide tournament which may result in Charlie and Alan becoming two of the most prominent folks in the gaming business.

Brandon Bales and Justin Huen – Photo by Jill Bennett

Meanwhile, Alan is developing a sight-unseen relationship with Joy (Amy Dellagiarino), another gamer who raises therapy dogs and has an on-and-off link to Alan through phone and email. Will the two ever meet? Can they break through the cyber wall and into each other’s arms? Or will their second-hand connection remain just that?

Author Schwartz does a skillful and well detailed job of outlining Alan, Charlie, and Joe – three buds who connect physically through taunts and fights and who hug their gaming controllers to their chests every night. In many ways, they are prime examples of the possible side effects of growing up in the tech generation – men who have difficulty easing into maturity and interfacing with the real world. Men who still wear colorful, sloganed tee shirts and torn jeans and relate to other people at a safe distance – preferably while streaming and sticking to superficial topics. Even the pandemic does not phase these cool individuals; they are accustomed to social isolation and even welcome it. These are men who love their beer, pot, and time spent gaming. And then the real world intrudes with unexpected results.

Director Darin Anthony helms the production with a deep understanding of the conflicts inherent in the story. He is amply assisted by a talented cast who make the story come alive. The production crew also does a yeoman’s job of merging set and lighting (Justin Huen), sound (Warren Davis), projection design (Veronica Mullins Bowers), and music (Chris Granner) to yield an entertaining and intriguing whole. @PLAYAZ is a timely study of contemporary issues, especially those associated with the power of the internet. For your safety, all COVID-19 safety protocols are in place (proof of vaccination, masks during the show).

@PLAYAZ runs through December 6, 2021 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, and at 5 p.m. on Sundays.  The Moving Arts performs at the Atwater Playhouse located at 3191 Casitas Avenue, Ste. 100, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $30 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Mondays are Pay-What-You-Will. For information and reservations, call 323-472-5646 and leave a message or go online.

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