FRINGE – Virtual Solitaire – RiAus – 5K

To watch a man transition between five characters – all very distinct, with their own mannerisms and voices (including accents) – in a conversation with each other, is both awe inspiring and more than a little disconcerting. There is no confusion about who is saying what, there is no pause between each character’s interjections, no pieces of one mistakenly showing through another. Each is distinct and real. What’s most astounding is that these aren’t even the major characters of the story; this is just the tip of the iceberg of the experience that is Virtual Solitaire, written and performed by Dawson Nichols.

Virtual reality (VR) games have become widely popular and people like Nathan are employed to help map the emotional responses of characters with which future players will be interacting. Given his less than stable mind-set, affected by years of immersion in VR, he is chosen as a good option to do some mapping of a handful of minor characters for a game set in an asylum. Things start to take an interesting turn when aspects of Nathan’s own personality and memories start creating tangential characters. As the stories of these characters play out, two men, Clarence and Stanley, try to get the process back on track, hoping to avoid a negative outcome and the wrath of both their investors and the mysterious ARPCA.

Staged in the less than theatre-like space of the auditorium at RiAus, the only special effects are some well-chosen lighting changes, a pair of unsettling-as-all-hell contact lenses and the force of Nichols’ talent. Nothing else is needed and, really, anything additional would have detracted from the beguiling strangeness of the piece and the sinewy flexibility, both physically and characteristically, of Nichols’ performance. The script is complex and jumps from story to story, layer to layer. While this means that a lot of concentration is required, there are explanations woven throughout as to how the layers work, so that the audience is unobtrusively forewarned about where the journey is going next.

The only disappointing thing about this show is that the run is so incredibly short – just three performances, closing on Saturday. This is a piece that deserves to build up a lot of hype and play to packed houses for weeks.

Kryztoff Rating: 5K

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