The Theater We Used to do and The Games We Play

Alexis Apfelbaum

Four hours away from the dazzling lights of Broadway, any traveling theater that heads our way is always cause for excitement. It was no surprise then, that every seat was filled at The Games We Used To Play, brought to us by Micheal Rau and Max Goldblatt, two seniors from Wesleyan University, with the help of Colgate sophomore Danielle Nolan. The Games We Used to Play is a show that could easily be likened to the daring political figure Robbespiere, who during the French Revolution beheaded a majority of boring, elderly, haughty aristocrats of the French ruling class. Here too, is a play that disposes with a flourish, all of the boring and trite theatrical conventions that had ruled heretofore, for something newer and much more engaging.Rau and Goldblatt both co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in this performance piece whose creation was based on an experimental process founded upon a series of rules and limitations. These rules were inspired by Lars von Trier’s Dogma 95 filmmaking tenets and included imperatives such as: no working stage crew; no theatrical lights; no expenditure of more than $100 for props and setting; no breaking of the fourth wall; and during the show, at least one rule must be broken. Interestingly enough, these very statutes and limitations seemed to have created an intrinsic absence in the piece of most “normal” rules characteristic of more generic genres of theater.Enclosed in a dark room and surrounded by black walls, the audience became privy to what is truly private. The Games We Used To Play hits straight to the heart of the games that we both played and continue to play as we grow from befuddled children to bewildered adults in a world of isolation and outlandish love. Rau and Godblatt play brothers lost in the eccentricities of a lonely childhood. When they would hide and seek in the living room as kids, their game grows dark and haunted as it expands throughout the house, throughout the neighborhood and finally throughout their whole city and possibly beyond. As their game escalates, so do the brothers, and so do the dares that become the culmination of having defeated the other by unearthing his hiding place. As the brothers near middle age, the game seems no longer like a mere diversion or sport. Indeed, the play actually opens with the caption: “My brother is lost.” He seemed to have disappeared, vanished inside the very shadows of the sinister game itself.We see a brother’s search for his missing link in the spurts of light from Rue and Goldblatt as they wield flashlights and flourescent spears, slicing the light across their faces in an eerie imitation of ghost stories around the campfire. The brother’s reflection is caught murkily in the soft rays of a computer screen, with ominous music and flashing captions which create the skeleton for the play. (The computer itself belonged to one of the actors, as buying it for the production would have deviated from the rules.) Rau and Goldblatt do an amazing job of creating an empty world and an empty search. Says the lost brother, feigning being trapped for years under the floorboards: “Am I here? Am I beneath you?” and we shiver with excitement and anticipation, watching a game gone horribly awry.The Games We Used To Play is a sordid and amazing piece made all the more spectacular because so much is created from nothing. Walking in, one sees on the “stage,” which is merely the floor, only a table and a laptop; black walls surround the space, looming. No structures are built, there is no scaffolding from which lights shine majestically. There is only the table, the emptiness and the dark. All of a sudden, the lights dim and erase the space as darkness falls upon all of us: the actors and the audience.We are immersed in the gloom of a chilling relationship and the unnerving game that adults play, where amusement can morph slowly into disturbing dares and terrifying commands that play with the very morbidity of life and death. All of these themes come to an apex, as Rue and Goldblatt demystify the very duality of love and detestation – and imagine, this whole piece was written in a workshop spanning only three weeks! Theater is nearly always powerful, but nothing can compare to this kind of theater that seems to be developing into a new and alarming tradition where rules and limitations give way to chaos.