Published in The New York Times
Video games may look increasingly realistic but they still have a ways to go. By having live actors mimic game characters, the Chocolate Factory, a theater group in Queens, has set out to show what the average gamer probably doesn't care to notice: just how unnatural the action can be.
The show, "Gun Play," which opens Thursday, is less play than performance piece. It combines actors, cameras, projections and actual scenes from video games in a collage that draws from games like Doom 3 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, as well as the video game-like styles of "The Matrix" trilogy and the hunting movies of the rock star and gun advocate Ted Nugent.
Though no one involved in the show started off as a fanatic gamer, the cast and crew spent hours playing Xbox titles, just part of their research into how to move like futuristic fighters or California carjackers:
WALKING Using CJ, the protagonist in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, as a model, the actors try to capture the robotic way characters walk. Brian Rogers, who conceived and directed the show, said the movement was both jerky and graceful, akin to moonwalking, with feet that don't leave the ground. "The upper and lower bodies feel disconnected," he said. "Certain things stick out - the way the legs bend sticks out a lot more."
STANDING Make that not standing. CJ and other game characters "don't really stand still," Mr. Rogers said. "There's this hypnotic sway that they do. Periodically they'll adjust themselves. They'll twist their shoulders and raise their elbows in this really strange way and return them. It's like they're shaking something off."
STOMPING In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, CJ repeatedly stomps on a victim in a scene "Gun Play" projects life-size on the back wall. CJ's arms are spread wide and bent at the elbow, and they jerk downward with every stomp. Mr. Rogers said the combination had such a strong rhythm, "you could sync it up to a beat."
SHOOTING Who knew figure skating and Doom 3 had anything in common? In one scene, a Hell Knight starts to throw a fireball before a gunshot knocks him into the air, his right arm snapping back around his body. The actress Sheila Lewandowski, a former figure skater, said that to get that airborne feel, "you have to really ground yourself on one leg and use the other leg to pull you up and around, like you would do in an axel or a camel."
DYING No matter the game, death visits in similar ways. Even demons and zombies are blown backward after being shot, for instance. To stage this, three mattresses are pinned to the back wall. An actor runs toward the wall, jumps up, spins in the air and collides, with back to the mattress. The actress Paula Wilson drew on her Lester Horton-style dance training, which emphasizes flat backs. To lessen the impact, she said, "you hit with as much body surface as possible."
REALISTIC DYING One by one, the actors kneel with their hands behind their backs and simply fall forward. For research, the actors watched security camera scenes from the shootings Columbine High School. When a person is shot at close range, Mr. Rogers said, his body simply collapses: "What's really chilling about it is how it's visually not interesting."