Saving Throw Versus Love
nytheatre.com review by Richard Lovejoy
August 15, 2010
A football fan can wear his team's uniform, paint his face, and dress up for big games, and yet even with such celebrities as Stephen Colbert and Vince Vaughn "coming out of the dungeon," tabletop role playing games are still generally frowned upon and quite often ridiculed (perhaps due to the unwarranted bad publicity Dungeons and Dragons received back in the '80s. People who don't play tabletop RPGs often have media-created biases about what actually occurs in a D&D game, and as a result those who play D&D (and really, a myriad of other pen-and-paper RPGs) often do so secretly. This is the initial impulse behind Larry Brenner's excellent romantic comedy, Saving Throw Versus Love.
Sam is about to get married to Carol. The problem is, he isn't out of the dungeon. He plays "Caverns & Creatures" every Thursday, and has convinced Carol that he actually goes to a poker game that night. The secret doesn't stay secret for long, and after Carol has a totally understandable freak-out about this part of Sam's life that he's kept to himself, she ends up coming to a game to participate and learn what it is actually about.
The performances are excellent all around., especially Kerry Flanagan as Carol, who scores a "natural 20" (a perfect success) and has some of the best moments in the show. She's really the protagonist of this piece, and her journey is the one the audience latches onto. Also especially of note is Michael "Tuba" McKinsey, who brings a great deal of nuance to Mark, the "Dungeon Master" of the group. As Mark—who is otherwise by and large a "straight man" type character—McKinsey totally throws himself into acting out the NPC (non-player characters) in the game, and the results are hilarious.
All of the actors deliver polished, quality performances. They are pitch perfect as an ensemble. Even though some of the roles would be extremely easy to slip into caricature as written, they by in large manage to avoid falling into that trap. Dann Fink does an excellent job keeping everyone grounded in the same world (or fantasy world) and moves the play forward at an agreeable, brisk pace.
This is an excellent production, one that deserves life after FringeNYC. It is enjoyable for gamers and non-gamers alike, so don't be scared off by the subject matter. I was fortunate to be seated next to an older couple—I don't think either of them knew a thing about Dungeons and Dragons—and they were laughing non-stop throughout the show. Gamers will likely find some clever little inside jokes (the "Caverns and Creatures" version of basic D&D stats was particularly funny to me), but there isn't anything that slows the play down or distracts from the solid, light and character driven comedic writing.
Saving Throw Versus Love isn't really about gaming. It is more about how people invest their time and energy, and then how they navigate those choices in their interpersonal lives. People get intensely involved—by choice—in things that it doesn't seem logical to be intensely involved in. For example, a baseball game doesn't mean anything, really. And yet the outcome of a game can bring true fans to exaltation or to tears. I see people get misty-eyed and moved by books, movies, and plays all the time. We're all nerds when it comes down it. Whether we're trekkies, gamers, history buffs, foodies, wine connoisseurs, runners, academics, antique collectors, bowlers, etc.; we all have things that we like to pour ourselves into, which make us sometimes behave in ways that—at least externally—might seem outlandish. Saving Throw Versus Love is really about recognizing that, and embracing it.
Don't expect anything too heavy or too deep here—if you theatre nerds out there are looking for a crazy fringe show that challenges conventional structure or utilizes narrative in an innovative fashion, this isn't it. This is a quality romantic comedy, one that will make you laugh, show you a great time, and put a smile on your face as you leave the theatre.