I would like to preface this by saying that this is not a review...this is an unrelenting geyser of sycophantic praise.
So a while ago, I was pouring over various gaming message boards, looking for a good place to toss a rant grenade, when I came across a thread announcing that the Da Vinci Arts Middle School would be producing a stageplay based on "Burnt Offerings" the first adventure in Paizo Publishing's hugely popular "Rise of the Runelords" adventure path for Dungeons & Dragons.
A middle school play. Based on Dungeons & Dragons.
That idea is awesome enough, but when I saw this would be happening in the Portland, Oregon area, I immediately resolved myself to go see it. Okay...that's something of an understatement. My actual reaction was to immediately begin frothing at the mouth, dive headlong out of my bedroom window and then brain some hapless, random jogger with my laptop while bellowing a berserker cry of "HOLY CHRIST BALLS! I MUST SEE THIS!" in a voice that was somewhere between a shrill, girlish squeal of delight and a rhinoceros orgasm.
I know that when one thinks of middle school theater, they probably get the image of awkward adolescents staring at the audience like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi-truck while wearing an ill-fitting fedora and sports coat, and desperately trying to remember Willy Loman's lines...and to be honest there is a bit of that going on here...but it's a middle school play, not "Waiting For Godot" at the fucking Gershwin...what do you want?
Anyway, to my pleasant surprise, everyone involved in Burnt Offerings put in a lot of effort, attention and yes, LOVE, into this production. The sets were very well done, the costuming was just awesome, the kids went through months of fight training for their roles. This project is obviously very close to the heart of director Tom Beckett and it really comes out on stage. Both the cast and the audience (full of gushing parents and gamer geeks alike) had an absolute blast.
Of particular note, were the performances of Miles Shepard, who played the Vesnian Cleric Father Abstalar Zantus, Aja Wald, who played the villainous Nualia, Priestess of Lamashtu, Jared Berrien, who played the treacherous Half-Elf Tsuto Kaijitsu, and Kobel Weaverly, who played the young wizard-in-training Finn.
However, the high point for me was the goblin attack on the village of Sandpoint in the first scene, which was staged with smoke billowing from off stage, while adorable kids in goblin costumes chased actors across the stage, behind props and even through the audience. Really, the adorable yet thoroughly convincing goblin kids were a treat all throughout the production.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm a film geek through and through, my love of DiPalma is the stuff of epics, but celluloid can never match the intimacy that happens between the audience and the story...and that is the greatest strength of Burnt Offerings. On screen, the story might view like any generic bildungsroman fantasy adventure, but on stage what comes across is Tom Beckett's love letter to Dungeons & Dragons...a love that he is passing along to a new generation of kids, all with the talent to put our best roleplaying efforts to shame. I was pleased to see that Beckett, who also penned the stageplay, was respectful of both the source material as well as the cast and audience. The result is a story that is at turns light-hearted, dark and compelling all around. Really, what this entire production felt like was a voyeuristic glimpse into someone's D&D game...which might have been what they were going for in the first place...so bravo on that front.
Anyone who reads this blog, probably has at least a cursory interest in Dungeons & Dragons and so I thoroughly recommend that you all go and see Burnt Offerings. Not only because it's an entertaining yarn featuring a charming cast, or because it reminds us why we all love this silly game Dungeons & Dragons so much, or even because it's cheaper than a movie. Mostly, we should see it because these are very talented kids who obviously love what they are doing and they need to have outlets like this for their talent and creativity. Now get off your asses and go support the arts, for fuck sake.
There are two more showings of Burnt Offerings on November 20th and 21st, at the Da Vinci Arts Middle School, 2508 NE Everett in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are $5 at the door.
I'm also planning on attending their next production, a rock opera based on the videogame, Fable. My girlfriend practically had a fangasm when she saw that.