There are players on the stage, but they’re not the ones to watch.
Williamsburg’s Brick Theater kicked off its Game Play festival with a terrifically inventive collection of four short pieces called “Kwaidan,” adaptations of traditional Japanese ghost stories told through today’s most popular video games — turning entertainment for the masses into delicate acts of story telling.
Each piece is brought to life using several video games, including “World of Warcraft,” “Duck Hunt,” and “Halo: Reach” — projected large upon a white screen at the very front of the theater (or “upstage”), and controlled on-the-fly, by gamers sitting with their backs turned to the audience and their faces wrapped in the glow of laptop monitors.
An offstage story teller, played by Connor Sedlacek, tells each tale in an uninflected voice, occasionally interrupted by dialogue from the characters — a blind musician performs for demons, a nobleman falls in love with a strange girl, a desperate hunter kills the wrong bird, and a young man nearly dies in an encounter with a witch.
The video games, guns-and-swords-centric as they are, could easily overpower these delicate stories, but Kim’s directorial choices bring out the mathematical beauty of these 3-D renderings, like the pixelated snowfall in “Minecraft,” as well as the black humor of goofy cartoon violence, like in “Duck Hunt.”
There’s also a strange irony in watching this group of boys — who, sitting on the floor in the center of the theatre, appear entirely in their element with their laptops and joysticks, not so much spellbound under the narcotic influence of electronic entertainment as exerting control. One thinks of a group of marionettes with their individual masters.
Indeed, spectators can see the backstage workings, “strings” and all, because each laptop screen, visible even from the back of the house, shows the gamers hard at work, setting up camera angles and placing their avatars in position, even while the large screen goes black between scenes.
The theater group behind the performances, EK Machinima, is named after the founder and artistic director, Eddie Kim — and “machinima” is a term for the technique they employ to stage their dramas.
Kim, a theatre teacher at the Pierrepont School in Westport, Conn., has been creating and presenting machinima theater since 2007. The group, which consists of his students, has performed in various venues, including the A.R.T. in Cambridge, Mass.
The results are pleasantly surprising — not only because the logistics of their performance are a feat in themselves, but also the medium in which they convey such subtle stories is one so often associated with and underestimated as idle child’s play.
Kwaidan at the Brick [575 Metropolitan Ave. between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street, (718) 907–6189, bricktheater.com]. Sat., July 14 at 5pm, Thurs., July 19 at 7pm, Sat., July 21 at 7pm, and Sun., July 22 at 2pm. Tickets $15.