July 9, 2004
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Play Review: Gameshow

Lame Game
Interactive Game Show play sinks to a new reality-TV low
By JOHN COULBOURN


TORONTO -- Answer: It is seen by many as the crossover of the reality craze from television to live theatre.

Question: What is Game Show, Alex?

After claiming huge swaths of prime time with shows such as Survivor and The Apprentice, not to mention American Idol and its poor Canadian cousin, the "reality" craze finally seems to have sunk its clutches into live theatre.

And not surprisingly, Game Show, the off-Broadway "play" that opened on the stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre on Wednesday night, is pretty much every bit as tacky, every bit as shallow, every bit as removed from reality, every bit as mindless and, ultimately, every bit as addictive as its small-screen cousins.

Written by Bob Walton (who also directs) and Jeffrey Finn (who, with Michael Rubinoff, also produces), Game Show offers its audience the opportunity to be part of the purported taping of a live game show, hosted by Troy Richards (played here by Peter Nelson).

Upon examination, however, Game Show, the game show, turns out to be a lot like Jeopardy!, without the depth, the excitement or the challenge.

Still, it does afford audience members the chance to participate and play a role as contestants in this "live taping," after they've been warmed up, of course, by the suave, smooth and ambitious Steve Fox (played by Steve Ferguson).

Happily, the questions aren't terribly taxing and the real prizes for audience members -- provided by local theatres, restaurants, hair salons and the producers themselves -- are pretty good, at least by Canadian game-show standards.

It is not, however, all fun and game shows.

Once the actual game-show part of Game Show is up and running, the writers switch focus for brief commercial interludes, giving their audience a "backstage glimpse" of the world ruled over by the beautiful, sexy and hugely ambitious Ellen Ryan (Ramona Milano).

But be warned. Even with the addition of two cameramen (Dwayne Adams and Simon Rakoff), a make-up girl (Renee Strasfeld) and an eager-to-please production assistant (Derek Forgie), it's a pretty contrived world that wouldn't bear too much more than a commercial-break's worth of examination. There is, however, more skullduggery afoot than first meets the eye, and under Walton's direction this cast manages to keep the ball in the air with enough elan that it beats watching someone sell soap powder, or beer.

In terms of production values, designer Graham Maxwell (scenic) and Kimberly Purtell (lighting) contribute a certain low-rent verisimilitude that only adds to the fun. In the end, it's a toss-up as to whether its more fun than an evening in front of the tube -- but, hey, it does get you out of the house and away from a summer of TV re-runs.

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