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'Grand Theft Ovid 2' [Review]

The Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival combines theater and gaming in new ways.

For anyone who thinks that modern video games present a disturbing level of violence never before seen in popular media, go reread the Greek myths. That seems to be the moral of Grand Theft Ovid 2, presented as part of the Brick Theater's Game Play Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This piece by Eddie Kim and EK Theater is a sequel to 2010's Grand Theft Ovid, and uses a variety of video games, from Pokemon to Minecraft to Halo, to retell another five stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses in an ingenuous new way.

How to Retell Myths through Video Games

While a basic familiarity with Greek mythology is helpful, having read the original stories told in Grand Theft Ovid 2 is not necessary to understanding and enjoying the performance. That is because narration of the tales is provided by a video game-style voiceover, with all of the matter-of-factness and romanticized language typical to a fantasy RPG.

The set-up of the show consists of six boys from Kim's company, five with laptops displaying different video games and one with a remote to control the projector. The large screen depicts the story being told, and jumps between a variety of different games for each of the five tales, based on what is appropriate for that section. Thus, Actaeon's hunt before his encounter with the goddess Diana takes the form of a Duck Hunt game, while the rather silly quest that Cadmus goes on that eventually leads to the founding of Thebes finds a kindred spirit in Pokemon.

For me, the most poignant pairing was the Niobe myth with Halo. As punishment for boasting about her fourteen children and their divine parentage, Apollo and Diana massacre Niobe's entire family with the sort of calm, determined brutality rarely seen outside sniper-style video games. A commentary on both mythology and popular video games at once, Grand Theft Ovid 2 reinterprets and questions the media that is so foundational for society today, showing what has changed and what has stayed the same across civilizations.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Form

While the games are programmed in advance to set up the appropriate characters and situations and then all game play is live, I found it frustrating that I was unable during some parts to tell that the boys were in fact controlling the action. There are times when you can clearly see someone controlling the direction of the camera with a mouse, but plenty of others in which the hero is battling his deadly foe, and every live human on stage appears to just be watching quietly. I also believe this performance missed the opportunity to show other images on the series of laptops, whether from different portions of the myth or the same section but through the framework of another game, to add more depth to the production.

Ultimately, Grand Theft Ovid 2 is the sort of show that provokes more nostalgia at recognizing an old favorite game and laughter at the bizarre sections of the myths than outright excitement. It is, after all, a game on a screen rather than a fully live performance. Yet it is still a fascinating show, and a solid introduction to the Brick's Game Play Festival for those who are hesitant about getting involved in immersive theater--most of the other plays in the festival are far more interactive.

Eddie Kim and EK Theater have been bringing work to the Brick since 2007, challenging the boundaries between live performance and gaming, as well as questioning the sort of stories video games are allowed to tell. This year is no different, and hopefully the group will continue to refine their theatrical approach to video games for years to come. More information about the 2014 Game Play Festival is available on the Brick's website.

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