Rated M For Mature is the best of the plays I have seen in the NYC Fringe Festival this year, and one of the better video game related plays I’ve seen in general. While this play addresses gaming, it’s really more about some of the problems unique to the current generation of teens and why some people develop obsessions for virtual worlds.
The title is a reference to the video game rating system which uses the letter “M” to denote games that aren’t intended for youngsters. Much like any rated M game, this play is a mature piece of story-telling. In it, Eric (Played by Ben Hollandsworth) is a high-school outcast who spends just about all of his free time playing an online game called Call To Arms. Despite the “Call of Duty” sound to it, CTA is actually a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game like World of Warcraft. In the game, Eric is the clever and powerful leader of a guild of heroes. In the real world, he is just some kid who doesn’t do well with girls, or in sports, or in school.
Eric’s parents are divorced and he lives with his mother Susan (Jamey Hood) who is clueless about video games, and is pretty much clueless about her own son in general. Larry the step dad (Brian Munn) is caught between being a disciplinarian and trying to befriend his girlfriend’s son. The councilor at school doesn’t offer much help either, leaving Eric’s social circle limited to a pair of other misfits who just barely qualify as friends.
Rated M For Mature starts off with a nice helping of comedy, including a brief scene where Eric is dressed as his in-game persona and commands his gamer pals Pete (Nick Vennekotter) and Danny (Patrick Harman) with a few inside jokes for nerds like “What do your elf eyes see”. There’s also some fun as Susan and Larry explore Eric’s filthy room learning about the mysterious world of a modern teen boy.
However the show takes a slow and steady trip towards the serious before embracing very dark tones about life in the 21st Century. This is very well paced by playwright Greg Ayers who eases the audience into the seriousness of Eric’s problems with enough foreshadowing that the change in tone never feels abrupt.
The cast is universally excellent with several young actors doing a great job of evoking authentic teen angst. The supporting grown-ups also do a great job in adding depth to their characters too. Director Paul Dobie also handles the emotional transitions well, especially the powerful climax where events quickly get out of hand for the characters.
Rated M For Mature is much more than a play about video games. It has enough gamer authenticity to appeal to video game fans, but it’s something that will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates good theater. It has two performances left as of this writing, Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th. It is highly recommended. Tickets and more information is available at www.ratedmtheplay.com.