Improvisational play combines fantasy with a big helping of funny

Sunday News Correspondent
May 11. 2013 2:18AM
The cast of Dorks in Dungeons performs at the Players' Ring theater in April. The show is based on the popular role-playing game "Dungeons & Dragons." This summer, the cast will take the show on the road to gaming conventions from Indianapolis to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada. (COURTESY)

PORTSMOUTH -- For about a year now, a cast of 10 gaming enthusiasts, actors and comedians has been bringing a theatrical version of the game "Dungeons & Dragons" to audiences on the stage of the Players' Ring Theatre.

Once a month, Dungeon Master Brian Kelly sets a quest for his cast, though his original plans don't always come to fruition, thanks to the liberal use of improvisation, audience participation and comedy.

The monthly show is continuing to gain popularity on the Seacoast, and now the cast is taking "Dorks in Dungeons" on the road.

Recently, the group started a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise enough money to send the cast and crew to "Gen Con" in Indianapolis, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world, with more than 40,000 attendees each year.

This Saturday, they will hold a "mini street fair" in the lot across from The Rosa restaurant at 58 State St. to help them reach their fundraising goal. The all-day event will feature gently used yard-sale items, handmade crafts and homebaked goodies for purchase while Jamie Bradley and Old Saw provide live music. Children's activities will include face-painting and games.

Kathleen Cavalaro is a producer for the show. She said the Players' Ring performers started with a two-show slot last summer and quickly realized they had something special.

In September, they will move the show to the Seacoast Repertory Theatre for monthly Sunday performances at 7 p.m.

"We're really excited about the direction we're headed in," Cavalaro said.

"Dorks in Dungeons" is inspired by the popular, rule-intensive, role-playing dice game in which players create imaginary characters in a fantasy world and set off on quests - all under the direction of the Dungeon Master.

"Our show does the same thing, except that most of the scenes are acted out by our actors and a group of improvisers and with audience participation and suggested input," Cavalaro said. "Brian (Kelly) has a guideline of where he would like to go, and then usually very quickly that gets blown out of the water and goes on its own into places we could not have imagined."

Cavalaro said that, like many audience members, she was unfamiliar with the role-playing game before the production began.

"And I still think it is one of the funniest things I have ever seen," she said.

Kelly said playing "Dungeons & Dragons" is an improv exercise in and of itself.

"You're pretending to be an elf or whatever, but sitting around a table or in your mom's basement or something," he said. The show "is a logical extension. It is the game that we're playing; we've just changed the rules a little bit. Anyone who has ever played the game will recognize exactly what we're doing."

Kelly said it is equally easy for audience members to pick up on what the performers are doing if they are familiar with the fantasy genre at all.

"To anyone else, it is just kind of a long improv game where we're all very much comedians and everyone's playing these fantastic characters," he said. "The comedy appeals to everybody."

The show will make its convention debut at "Port Con" in Portland, Maine, the weekend of June 21. The Players' Ring cast is scheduled to perform in the main event tent on Saturday, June 22, at 5 p.m.

"I've been involved in lots of different productions, and I feel this is something unique and not being done anywhere else," Cavalaro said. "It is just something we want to take around and just sort of see what happens."

The "Dorks in Dungeons" cast will put on two more performances at the Player's Ring Theatre, on Thursday, May 16, and Thursday, June 13, before taking the show on the road. Both performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors and members. The Players' Ring is located at 105 Marcy St. in Portsmouth.

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