Review: Dice cast role-playing improv as terrific theater in ‘The Twenty-Sided Tavern’ – Shaw Local

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Spinning their entertaining improv in “The Twenty-Sided Tavern” are Madelyn Murphy (from left), Jack Corcoran, Sarah Davis Reynolds, Carlina Parker and DAGL. (Photo provided by Amy Boyle)
Role-playing games – or RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons – have been around for almost 50 years, but the only role playing I’ve done has been on stage in scripted plays and musicals. When I heard that “The Twenty-Sided Tavern,” a new show at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse, involves a quest, a fantasy world, audience interaction (through smartphones and otherwise) and a lot of humor, I was intrigued, but also a bit afraid that my lack of RPG experience might get in the way of my enjoyment.
I needn’t have worried.
While there are aspects of this show that left me confused – especially the scoring and dice-rolling of our three “heroes” in the adventure unfolding before us – I eventually accepted that while the more RPG-aware audience members wearing costumes (such as elves and princesses) might get more out of the show, virtually everyone was having a ton of fun. Including me. Because “The Twenty-Sided Tavern” is truly innovative, interactive, improv insanity. Let me try to explain.
The audience determines fates in “The Twenty-Sided Tavern,” a role-playing game that spins entertainingly creative improv. (Photo provided by Amy Boyle)
As you enter the theater’s lobby, you’ll spot signs to scan a QR code that gives you access to all of the smartphone activities throughout the show, so make sure you’ve charged your phone in advance, as you’ll be using it a lot. Going into the theater, make sure to get your own copy of the Playbill, because it includes – in addition to the standard contents and that QR code again – a sticker identifying which skills your particular on-stage “hero” has. In my case, my green sticker read, “Some of us are better at Sneaking & Seducing,” which were the strengths of the Rogue (Madelyn Murphy). The Fighter (Carlina Parker) and the Mage (Jack Corcoran) were the other heroes set to join the Rogue on the quest.
The audience picks one of three personas for each hero – Murphy, Parker and Corcoran – who will don costume pieces and use largely improvised dialogue and actions to become unique characters. Thus, on this particular night, the audience voted for Parker to be a roller derby barbarian, for Corcoran to be an unlicensed therapist (“Be the changeling you want to see in the world … I still have to charge you for the whole hour.”) and for Murphy to be a “cat cat burglar” (I didn’t stutter in that phrase; she enthusiastically developed a semi-feline felon character).
In addition to the three heroes, the two remaining cast members are game designer/co-creator Sarah Davis Reynolds, the “tavern keeper,” and David Andrew Greener Laws, the writer and co-creator of the show, who is the “gamemaster.” The latter, who prefers to go by DAGL (first letters of the four names), tells the story of “The Temple of the Crystal Cauldron,” and takes on the different personas of characters our heroes encounter (such as bartender, bandit, priest). The specific choices made by the Fighter, Mage and Rogue – such as which of three doors to enter at one point – are determined by the audience (with their phones) or by the rolls of 20-sided dice, both small (video cameras showing the roll) and huge. There are also various game activities in which riddles, physical challenges and a “brave and thirsty volunteer” play a part.
Flanked by audience members, the core cast includes Jack Corcoran (second from left to right), DAGL and Madelyn Murphy. (Photo provided by Amy Boyle)
Three large screens above the stage show the various locations visited by our heroes, the points they’ve earned and the results of audience-interaction activities. Ultimately, the quest’s goal is to achieve peace in the land instead of 99 years of chaos. That’s ironic because of the chaotic – and hilarious – nature of much of the activity on stage and in the audience.
Unlike most theater experiences, attendees are encouraged to use their phones to take as many photos as they like. Producers clearly want to spread the word about this unique adventure/improv/multimedia show, which is truly unlike anything else playing in the Chicago area.
It’s worth noting that while Reynolds and DAGL are in the show throughout the entire run, different actors are set to play the heroes beginning Dec. 8. The standouts of the current cast are DAGL and Murphy. Using wigs, different accents and such, DAGL created memorable, laugh-inducing characters, with storytelling/narration skills that effectively segued from Reynolds-coordinated games/activities back into the quest story line. Murphy is a very talented Chicago improviser and actor; her cat antics – even to the point of licking the side of a fellow cast member’s face – consistently brought down the house and endeared her to us. To enjoy both DAGL and Murphy, catch the show by Dec. 4.
In summary, at a time when 21st century reality can bring you down, discover a fantasy world full of fun and frivolity. “The Twenty-Sided Tavern” is good for what “ales” you.
• Paul Lockwood is a singer, local theater actor (including the new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” at the Woodstock Opera House), Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, theater reviewer, podcaster, columnist, business proposal writer and past president of TownSquare Players. He’s lived in Woodstock for more than 21 years.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Twenty-Sided Tavern”
WHERE: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago
WHEN: Through Jan. 15
INFORMATION: 800-775-2000, Ticketmaster at tinyurl.com/5n7ct7kk, www.thetwentysidedtavern.com
Copyright © 2022 Shaw Local News Network
Copyright © 2022 Shaw Local News Network

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