Helmet is a play composed of two incongruous parts. The first half is intense physical theater at its finest, but has a mostly unintelligible storyline. The second half features a terrific monologue and some interesting interaction between the two characters, but it loses the corporal specificity of the first section. If the two halves were properly combined, they would create a highly compelling experience. As it stands now, Helmet is an intriguing but ultimately frustrating hour in the dark. Sal is a video game storeowner facing bankruptcy and living in the shadow of his more successful brother. Despite Sal’s financial and personal troubles, teenage gamer Roddy thinks he has a dream job. Roddy (aka Helmet) comes into Sal’s store every day to talk shop and buy the latest diversion. As the lines between game and reality blur, will either be able to survive the store’s imminent closure?
Playwright Douglas Maxwell, who formerly worked at a video game shop in Glasgow, shows his gaming knowledge in his dialogue. His play is peppered with terminology that might confuse audiences who grew up with the original Nintendo, an Atari, or nothing at all.
As Sal laments in one scene, his industry is so obsessed with the next best thing that three years ago is an unthinkable eternity for most gamers and manufacturers. Sal asks why graphics need to be continually improved to please consumers. A good game is a good game, no matter how old it is. Observations like this are more likely to hit home for players who follow the industry.
Maxwell repeats many of the scenes in his play as if each character had multiple lives, as do the characters in typical video games. The idea is cool, but it clouds his intent. Is Maxwell’s point that given the ability to relive moments in their own lives people might choose to make things easier for themselves rather than facing the grim nature of reality? This seems to be what the play is trying to communicate, but it is difficult to know for certain.
Both Michael Evans Lopez as Sal and Troy David Mercier as Roddy/Helmet fully commit to their Viewpoints grid physical score in the tiny Players Loft space. With the limited rehearsal time generally available for Fringe productions, it’s great to see two actors genuinely working together. Now if only the two sections of the play could do the same.