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Son Of Pong Review

Playwright John DeVore does not like video games.  He dislikes them to such an extent that he’s written a one-man show about his lifelong grudge against them.  It’s called Son Of Pong, and is playing this month as part of the Game Play Theater Festival in New York City.

Despite his hatred of electronic entertainment, Devore is still an authentic geek.  He establishes his nerd cred numerous times during the show; a child of the eighties he points out his love of He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Star Wars and the super-helicopter TV show Airwolf

To be fair, DeVore has some pretty good reasons to not like games, such as his father being a video game addict who played Legend of Zelda obsessively right up to the night he died.  Long before the modern talk of World of Warcraft and MMO addiction, people suffered from an earlier, more primitive form of this disease.  We called it “Pac Man Fever”, but it also applied to any of the classics on the Atari 2600, or the original NES.  These quaint old games were just as engrossing as our modern ones at the time, and DeVore father was a terminal victim.

Song Of Pong is told informally, with DeVore addressing the audience directly, recounting the humorously tragic tale of his childhood, and his father’s death.  He shows insight into gamer psychology by detailing the way that many gamers have a special set of comfy clothes they wear when gaming (“The Uniform” as DeVore calls it), or a gaming “Throne” to sit in when playing, and special “Fuel” to eat on long play sessions DeVore goes into detail about the disgusting snacks his father consumed while binging on Pong.

He is funny and neurotic but occasionally serious too, especially in the second half of the 90-minute piece.  Like many one-person shows, Son of Pong sometimes feels like art-therapy with the audience taking the place of DeVore’s psychologist as he discusses his relationship with his father.  This is typical for autobiographical shows of this like, and is easily overlooked because the subject matter is quite entertaining.  Even though it is ostensibly about video games, there’s a lengthy section where DeVore’s monolog diverts from gaming to his hypochondria. Gamers coming just for the talk of the golden days of Atari and Nintendo might not appreciate this, but the play eventually turns the focus back to growing up the son of a gamer dad.

Visually the show is a little bland, DeVore performs on a bare stage, wearing street clothes.  There’s no furniture, except for a box holding an old Nintendo console.  Footage of 80’s video games is projected on the wall behind him for most of the show, which is a little distracting, but still better than black curtains.

There are about half a dozen shows in the Game Play Festival, and Son Of Pong is one of the more traditionally theatrical, as well as among the better among them.  It also doesn’t require any understanding of video games, or even a tolerance of them.  It’s playing through July 30th, you can see more about it and the other projects in the Game Play festival at the Brick Theater’s website.


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