‘Before You Ruin It’ dazzles but does not quite ruin anything

If you were to make up a fake technology company from the ’80s, you would probably call it something absurdly stereotypical, like “Infocom.” This just so happens to be the name of the company at the center of the Herberger Institute’s newest play, “Before You Ruin It.” Surprisingly, it’s a true story. Well, a story based on true events.

The creative adjustments to the actual rise and fall of the once great video game company are clear from the first scene.

A lone desk supporting a keyboard sits in a stark office setting. On the walls of this office are projected a labyrinth of circuits, making the otherwise ordinary place look like a motherboard. Commands from an interactive fiction video game flicker on the back wall and the whole time the menacing whir of a computer fan stifles the tiny Lyceum Theater.

 

 

It is here that we meet our main character, a soft young computer enthusiast with a bad haircut who is only ever referred to as “New Guy.” Played by exploratory theater sophomore Chad Palmer, he enters Infocom with high hopes and ends up being responsible for the fate of his employer. Thanks to some entertaining and surreal elements like a digital watch that allows him to travel through time, he grows as a person and takes the audience with him.

Guiding him along the way is a powerful and seductive computerized character who stands in an eerily lit corner on the edge of the stage. She is the personification of the text that tells “New Guy” where he is, what he’s supposed to accomplish, and what he can and cannot do in “the game.” Played by acting senior Sarah Clevinger, this unnamed character provides our hero with information, and occasionally help, with a stern objectivity that indicates she is not invested in his success, but only in his understanding.

Although they aren’t the stars of the show, the cast features three true standouts. Theater sophomore Jeremiah James plays Infocom’s co-founder, Marc, with unrestrained dramatic passion and exceptional humor. The energy James exhibits flawlessly progresses from arrogant, to ecstatic, to depressed, furious, ambitious and everything in between. This role takes real talent, and this guy’s got it.

Theater sophomore Shannon Phelps and theater freshman Michelle Nakamoto, who play only male roles, give great performances on their own, yet their combined chemistry steals the show. Their best roles are definitely as the New Guy’s fellow “Imps,” short for “Implementers,” which is what the Infocom team calls themselves. These imps, an overly confident dork and loveable nerd played by Phelps and Nakamoto respectively, exude character and ensure there’s never a dull moment.

“Before You Ruin It” is a fun, deep and compelling play that presents life as a game, but one where the point is not winning or losing. The point is to just play it.

“Before You Ruin It” runs until Feb. 16 at Lyceum Theater. Visit the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts performing arts event page for exact dates and times.

 

Reach the reporter at shmartin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @shmartin09