Last month, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park opened its 67th world premiere, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Leveling Up (running through March 10). Laufer earned a citation from the American Theatre Critics Association for End Days (2007), her much-produced comedy about a fractured post-9/11 family seeking moral guidance from gurus, including Stephen Hawking, Jesus and an Elvis impersonator. Drawn as ever to in-the-moment themes, Laufer has taken a serious plunge with her new drama into the world of video gaming.
Directed by Wendy C. Goldberg (who is artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at Connecticut’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where Leveling Up was developed), the play focuses on the failure-to-launch lives of three twentysomething friends, who spend 20 hours a day in a dark basement, obsessively immersed in virtual worlds. A girlfriend questions their isolation from reality, but soon she’s in a life-simulation game with her boyfriend’s buddy, where lines of appropriate behavior are not clear. When the NSA recruits uber-geek Ian to use his gaming skills to fly drones in war zones, moral ambiguities become even more distressingly blurred.
In the world of video gaming, “leveling up” means to rise to the next stage of character development and powers. The ability of young adults to “level up” in their own lives is what Laufer’s play examines. She calls Leveling Up an exploration of humanity and maturity, one that will speak to multiple generations. Playhouse artistic director Blake Robison praises Laufer’s writing: “Hers is a fresh and insightful voice.”