This kickass 90s epic brings geek theater to the next level.
Photo by Crystal Arnette
This is Kapow-i GoGo, the best fighter in the universe...or at least she thinks so. On a quest to make it to the big tournament and prove to her friends and family what she's really capable of, the blue-haired 14-year-old soon gets drafted into something far more sinister. And before we know it, we're enveloped in a fantasy world of magic crystals and enchanted forests, conniving thieves and dastardly villains. And Kapow-i still needs to make it to the tournament on time.
Kapow-i GoGo by Matt Cox began its life as one of the most popular plays at The Flea Theater's #serials@theflea series, a late-night episodic play competition in which only the best stories survive to perform another chapter. Reworked into nine half-hour episodes, this hilarious and compelling drama will feel familiar to anyone who grew up on Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z or the Final Fantasies. And if Part 1, containing the first three episodes, is any indication, it should only get better from here.
Photo by Anya Gibian
When Kapow-i sets off for the tournament at the beginning of the play, her greatest concerns are her rivalry with neighbor and fellow contestant Tuxedo Gary, surviving the hyperactivity of her 32-year-old manchild brother Hicc-up and making her father, the former best fighter in the universe Swiftfist GoGo, proud despite his mysterious disappearance long ago. But everything changes when Kapow-i and Hicc-up meet an old blind man on the road who turns out to be a fighting master and their father's old companion, Master Masterwhiskies, and he explains the importance of Kapow-i's amulet that her father once gave her. Because as it turns out, that cube and the six others like it have the power to change the world.
Add in a team of bumbling bovine ne'er-do-wells, the vengeful demon Xar Xar Zuu and an impending war between a tribe of violent tree elves and a power-hungry corporation, and we've got ourselves a show. Kapow-i GoGo is openly referential to the particular video games it is inspired by, from musical themes to characters such as Mario's cloud Koopas and Pokemon's Team Rocket, but still manages to create an exciting universe all its own. That world, of course, is filled with elements both inventive and absurd as only the 90s can do, whether that's the Mario-style item store or moobats.
This play also assumes that you know the tropes of the story and rolls with them, such as the master trainer or the mysterious dark hooded figure that provides exactly the information that the party needs exactly when they need it. At the same time, it plays expertly with the boundary between the real and the artificial. Kapow-i GoGo features immensely detailed anime-style props and costumes constructed entirely from cardboard and duct tape (and some particularly impressive wigs), and you never know when the two-dimensional oversized juice box will turn out to actually have juice in it.
Photo by Anya Gibian
Of course, the one major way this play differs from the games it was inspired by is in its characters. In particular, the women are all far more complex and compelling than you are likely to find in any video game, from the honest, matter-of-fact and completely adorable lesbian romance between Kapow-i (Madeleine Bundy) and Twig (Tara Pacheco) to badass ladies on both sides like the hilarious Treeleaf (Andrea Miller) and Xar Xar Zuu (Cristina Pitter). Giving the series of nine episodes its staying power, meanwhile, is its wide variety of entertaining villains, including the incompetent rhyming duo Mr. Snuggles (Matt Cox) and Mr. Smiles (Karsten Otto), a ravenous energy corporation led by Colonel Vice President Thunderbolt (Colin Waitt) and even the conflicted Hicc-up (Mike Axelrod) when under the mind control of Xar Xar Zuu.
Perhaps the most impressive element of Kapow-i GoGo, however, is how it manages to be both openly comical and internally consistent, invoking real drama while at the same time making us laugh at a half-naked actor. Though its frequent stage combat scenes awkwardly hover between realistic and comic styles, the rest of the performance handles that dichotomy perfectly, a heart-warming and laugh-out-loud production that makes you want to immediately go back and play all of the video games it references. Kapow-i GoGo is an engaging and believable save-the0world narrative about someone who never wanted to save the world, a story that everyone can relate to.
Kapow-i GoGo Part 2 plays at the People's Improv Theater on April 4, or you can catch all three parts (that's right, all NINE episodes!) on April 18 starting at 8pm.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.