AN EXCELLENT SHOW: RUFFIN AND VAN ZURIN ARE “KINGS OF KONG” AND THEATRE
A friendly note in the program — followed by a humorous pre-show announcement — reassures patrons, “If you haven’t seen the documentary [King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, on which this show is based], you don’t have to in order [to fully enjoy the show].” And you truly don’t. Stellar players Amber Ruffin and Lauren Van Zurin present a raucous evening of laughs sure to leave you smiling regardless of your knowledge of Donkey Kong or video gaming expertise. The show, , runs through Tuesday, August 19th at the Player’s Theatre as part of the 2014 International Fringe Festival, and if you can make it, this one is not to be missed!
The show chronicles Steve Wiebe (Van Zurin) and his attempt to dethrone Billy Mitchell (Ruffin) as high-score champion of the Donkey Kong video game; Wiebe is desperate to show his family he’s not a failure, which he considers himself to be, despite his hilariously half-optimistic look at the word: “A failure is just a success that you fail to succeed at.” Though the majority of the plot is spent on these two characters, Ruffin & Van Zurin split duties to cover all the supporting characters as well, including, but not limited to, Wiebe’s spouse, Mitchell’s son, and video game competition referee Walter Day.
I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Walter Day, not only because of his hilarious one-liners — “I wear this shirt” (he points to his traditional, black-and-white striped referee shirt) “so that people know I’m a referee, not because I have ever watched or been part of a sports game” — but the way in which the players decided to present the character; when Ruffin was on for Billy Mitchell, Van Zurin became Walter Day. Of course, the ploy was made even more excellent when they addressed the issue onstage; Van Zurin — in character — states, “I might be looking different from time to time depending upon where we are in the show.”
I think part of this show’s success lies in the hilarious tongue-in-cheek references. When Day tells Wiebe, “We don’t allow gamers to videotape themselves anymore,” Van Zurin blatantly deadpans, “You’re saying that like it’ll be important later.” Additionally, Ruffin (who at this performance ran out of time during her quick-change to put her shoes on before her entrance) humorously addressed the issue in character before she began the scene: “Sometimes, I just like to take off my shoes and read the mail.”
I also cannot end the review without mentioning Van Zurin’s brilliant portrayal of Mitchell’s ditzy, Kardashian-esque wife. I let out an audible guffaw when Mitchell says, “Sweetie, say your line” and she replies — as any ditz would do — with “Your line.”
Especially deserving of praise is composer David Schmoll, who expertly provides music for 10+ numbers, ranging in all sorts of musical styles, from the Broadway-style, happy tappy “Wipe My Butt” (don’t ask — just see it), in which Ruffin displays her impressive tapping skill, to the rock anthem “Lick My Sauce,” in which Van Zurin (as the aforementioned wife) provides comical backup dancing (again, think ditz) to Ruffin’s throaty, Pantera-esque jingle.