Review: Kartasi

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Sun Star
March 11, 2003

Pixels and power-ups: "Kartasi" reboots traditional theater
by Robinson Duffy

..... This is a difficult experience to describe. Perhaps the best way to explain Thomas Riccio's cyber ritual 'Kartasi' in clumsy written words is: a live-action Zelda. Forgive me Mr. Riccio-that description is entirely inadequate.

..... "Kartasi" is definitely not your mother's theater. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. I will admit that I was more than a little wary when I entered the theater-not knowing quite what to expect from the mind of the man who brought us six-foot penises and tap-dancing vaginas (which, thankfully, do not grace "Kartasi's" stage).

..... The concept is a bit frightening. "Kartasi" is a video game elevated practically to a religious ceremony. Director/writer Riccio, perhaps profoundly, feels that computer and video games are "contemporary manifestations of a ritual urging that lives deeply, hardwired, in all of us." So perhaps those endless hours spent playing Halo or Grand Theft Auto are indeed not in vain. See all the wonderful stuff you can learn in college?

..... Trite cynicism aside, Riccio's idea is fascinating. A student of ritual and indigenous performance, Riccio has taken the next anthropological step: moving back, placing his own culture firmly under the microscope. What he has revealed is our deep-rooted need for heroes and order and, indeed. mythology satisfied by pixels and sprites and one- ups.

..... Concept in theater. however, is not everything. Visualization is key. and Riccio's concept is difficult to visualize. The production does have many promising steps in the right direction. Form follows theme and many video game archetypes are cleverly spread throughout: a flash screen at the beginning of the "game" introduces characters and plot; exaggerated movements are constantly repeat- ed when the characters are idle; "loading is displayed between scenes; and Kartasi's life count is reduced every time he dies. Many of these elements, while imitating video games brilliantly, were utilized half-heartedly, giving a haphazard feel to the production.

..... Typical of video games. the plot is ambiguous, getting the heroes as quickly to the battle front as possible. Without the lengthy back story, the action follows Kartasi as he seeks his mate Virgo. who has been captured by Slime, a hideous member of the Supra Civis-outcasts relegated to the Rife Vallis who zealously protect the Story, which brings balance and power to their crumbling existence.

Rose Jensen, as Kali the Warrior, gets close to Jon Ward as the title character Kartasi in Thomas Riccio's fantasy play "Kartasi," showing this weekend in the Salisbury Theatre. -photo courtesy of Kade Mendelowitz.

..... Don't worry if you didn't understand a word of that. The important points are: Kartasi is the hero and Slime and his minions are obstacles Kartasi must face and destroy.

..... Jonathan Ward, the actor in the title role, performed Kattasi powerfully and confidently. He wonderfully captured the stance of the video game hero while still allowing his humanity to show through. Rose Jensen similarly gave a strong performance as the Hoi Polli warrior. Kali.

..... Adding to the difficult thematic elements of the script was Riceio's surprising decision to create a new language for his video game characters. A jumble of Spanish. English, German, Latin, hodge podge. and computer jargon, this new language adds a new level of difficulty for both audience and performers making Shakespeare's admonition to suit the action to the word, the word to the action" paramount.

..... Decisively up to this challenge was the dazzling Shannon Luster as the villainous Slime. Battling not only the language barrier but also a cumbersome gargoyle mask, Luster was able to deliver his meanings as clearly as crystal.

Jon Ward, as Kartasi, is surrounded by many creatures in Theater UAF's fantasy-game play, "Kartasi." photo courtesy of Kade Mendelowitz

..... The foreign language did, however. get the better of several of the actors. Mike Karoly as Purification Garcia was the most difficult to understand. Perhaps adding to this was his melodic, chant- like delivery, which was more than a bit over the top.

..... 'Kartasi' was indeed a visual spectacle; a multimedia performance full of imagination and well-crafted enchantment. The costumes were magnificent. Tara Maginnis has once again created masterpieces from foam and fabric.

..... Perhaps the most disappointing element of the play was the audience participation. Extremely underutilized and with so much unexplored potential. its effects were disheartening and. occasionally. confusing. The great unknown in any performance. at times the actors seemed ill-prepared and caught off guard by the audience response. However, hopefully future performances will not be plagued by festering packs of cackling hyenas boorishly howling from within the audience.

..... As art, "Kartasi" is beautiful and compelling. As theater. 'Kartasi" was sketchy. although well performed by an incredible group of talented actors. Mr. Riccio 's concept is undeniably ground- breaking and deserves deeper study. Perhaps, though, a retooling of his play may be in order.

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