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Virtual Solitaire (Fringe Festival 2011)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on August 24, 2011

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As we get closer and closer to the futuristic realm of cyberpunk, that has been active in our collective imaginations since we first started understanding what computing was or what it could be, one has to ask the questions:

What about the people it could hurt?  Would we even know what it meant to feel that way?  Would dysfunction be the first glimpse into a greater ability to truly live on or beyond “the net”?  If the first person in this new space were alone, would he make friends with virtual projections of himself?

Virtual Solitaire written and performed by Dawson Nichols is a  fast paced drama which does an amazing  job of exploring these themes in a very real and human way — in an artificial world.

To be sure there have been a fair amount of stories written about this.  Perhaps one could say even a majority of cyberpunk stories have a character who has been “burned” by the system or who uses virtual reality as a refuge from a harsh external or internal reality.  We’ve seen this in everything from Mona Lisa Overdrive to the Matrix.  However, even if this theme has been investigated before, the story and performance by Dawson Nichols of Virtual Solitaire is a polished and well thought out investigation of the theme of redefining what is meant by a dangerous experiment in a world where the boundaries between real life and virtual reality become blurry.

Virtual Solitaire is some of the best cyberpunk I’ve read or seen anywhere (and I’ve read a pretty good percentage of the genre).  I would love to see a sequel based in the same world as this.  Nichols came up with a logically consistent and enticing plot angle which explains exactly why there is only one person represented in this one man show. Like most solo pieces, Nichols embodies a range of characters in order to change things up for the audience as well as show off his range. In this show however, this is more than just a device, as others have essentially taken over his brain and all the people have been routed through him for testing.  Thus, everyone is him.  The lighting design (design by Dawson Nichols with Eric Beauzay running the board) creates dramatic transitions from character to character that really sucks you into the virtual world that is being portrayed.

The story begins with main character Nathan stumbling about the stage full of various “glitches in his continuity”. It seems obvious he is a bit messed up as he begins mumbling rapidly and somewhat incoherently until we realize he is not crazy, but actually talking to someone else. He begins to talk to Clarence, a corporate technologist who is trying to “hire” Nathan to do some “extreme prototyping” of a virtual reality mystery game about a murder in an asylum. Clarence, over a private channel, converses with Stanley (Nathan’s boss) who is in charge of the project and tells him about the setup.

At this point Nathan takes us to the beginning of the story, looking at profiles of people involved with the case. Nichols does an amazing job of transforming from one character to the next. The plot is supposed to be displayed in a read-only format and be completely non-interactive with the character, bue due to previous damage to Nathan’s brain from his addiction to bandwidth and early childhood trauma there are numerous break-off points where events from Nathan’s life are being channeled into the story. We see a human drama in the synthetic world of Virtual Solitaire, and a wish to be able to show compassion for Nathan’s character after the world seems to fail at this.

This is a not-to-be missed cyberpunk drama helmed by one talented man who channels a multitude.  Be sure to see Virtual Solitaire while you can.


Virtual Solitaire
Writer: Dawson Nichols
1h 50m
VENUE #16: Players Theatre
Thu 25 @ 4 Fri 26 @ 8

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