By Bridgette M. Redman
If you arrive on time to see “Game Show” at Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse, you’ll miss a good half hour of antics. And this is a show that is as much about the antics as it is about the twists and turns of a fun plot designed to leave the audience guessing.
Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton’s “Game Show” is a play that never forgets its audience, not even for a moment. There is no fourth wall, as the audience is acknowledged and made a part of the production.
The pre-show begins with a “crew” of people preparing the set for the live broadcast of a game show. This crew talks casually with the audience as they arrive, doing camera checks, sweeping and dusting, and setting up notes. One poor fellow, whom we later meet as the clean-cut and eager Johnny Wilderman (played by Lance Fletke), is the production assistant and is constantly being called out to pick up deliveries of flowers, meals and wine from local Saugatuck businesses that are being sent to the host in his dressing room.
Once the show begins, nearly everything is played to the audience. Kevin B. McGlynn plays Steve Fox, whose job is to warm up the audience and teach what is expected of them. He also reassures them early on that if they don’t want to be a contestant, they merely have to look at their feet as the host, Troy Richards (played by Timothy Booth), will pick on someone who is waving their arms and eager to volunteer.
This is mostly true, though audience members in the front rows were also called upon several times in minor ways and small interactions. The actual contestants were pulled from all throughout the audience. A total of nine people are brought up to compete for actual prizes, and all of the “Game Show” ensemble do a great job of interacting with them and rolling with the interactions in true improv fashion.
But the show is not simply a game show. There is a plot swirling around the audience interaction and the rounds of trivia. It seems everyone has a plot or a scheme. At times the plot feels almost archaic, a hearkening back to the golden age of game shows that were sometimes marked by sexist attitudes. The only woman on the team is the type who sleeps her way to the top in nearly stereotypical fashion. That said, almost all of the characters are grasping and ambitious in one way or another.
What works about this ensemble cast is that they are likeable despite their flawed characters. They make us laugh, and we’re amused rather than outraged by their plotting. Laurie Wells’ Ellen Ryan, the show’s producer, may be the antagonist of the plot, but she does a fantastic slow reveal, escalating from straight to farce in a way that brings everyone along with her for the ride.
“Game Show” is a highly entertaining evening, one in which the talented actors have great skill at improvisation. They make constant references to the host city of Saugatuck, to their sponsors and to current events pulled from the week’s headlines. Even the curtain speech is part of the show and done in pieces throughout the opening minutes.
For those thinking about being a contestant, the questions are of a general nature and range in difficulty with eventual hints being given when contestants struggle too much, especially in the final round. All the contestants in the opening night production seemed to enjoy themselves and were comfortably able to fit in with minor instructions from the show’s cast.
Filled with several delightful twists and turns of varying predictability, “Game Show” tickles the funny bone and successfully turns a night at the theater into a participatory event for ticket holders.
Mason Street Warehouse at Saugatuck Center for the Arts, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck. Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 11. 90 minutes; no intermission. $29-42. 269-857-2399. http://www.Sc4a.org