The Gamergate-inspired drama Non-Player Character doesn't bother to challenge audience assumptions | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The Gamergate-inspired drama Non-Player Character doesn't bother to challenge audience assumptions

It provides all the answers to the central dilemma that you'd expect.

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Red Theater has achieved its admirable goal to "ask dangerous questions theatrically" in the past. But this time playwright Walt McGough's schematic 2018 Gamergate-inspired drama provides only answers—and likely ones the young storefront audience this company courts already know.

Ambitious Katja, a 22-year-old coder, is passionate about designing a noncompetitive online game that involves creating trees, attaching stories to them, and watching multiple players' stories interconnect. Trent, a hard-core gamer and Katja's bosom college friend, now at a dead end and living with his parents, can't understand a game where no one wins. The calculatedly opposite-gendered pair (now living on opposite sides of the country, no less) meet only as avatars in a game called SpearLight, which Trent's online friend Feldrick joins primarily to exhibit Neanderthal-level sexism. When Katja spurns Trent's romantic advances, he flips from supportive friend to vindictive, self-righteous misogynist in the blink of an eye.

Throughout, it's always clear whose thoughts and actions deserve finger snaps and whose should be instantly condemned. McGough ends up with a staged opinion piece short on nuance and long on repetitive dialogue. Director Beth Wolf has assembled a strong cast, with careful, passionate performances from Alice Wu as Katja and Matthew Schnitker as Trent. But McGough doesn't offer much beyond entry-level critiques of toxic male privilege and gender bias with a pinch of modest female self-empowerment. Like many contemporary playwrights, McGough seems more interested in reassuring his audience that they're right-thinking progressives than in challenging any of their assumptions.   v

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