Nostalgia can sometimes mean yearning for a past that never actually existed. Part of that rolling-over of fond remembrances is for video games, especially those 8-bit, pixilated side-scrollers. Back in that simpler, halcyon Nintendo age of the late ’80s and early ’90s, games were not just simple in graphics, but also in message and gameplay. There were puzzles and A-to-B-to-C quests that revolved around tropes like knights, princesses, prophecies and chosen ones.
That’s the basis of Daniel Park’s You Are the Hero, a one-man show inviting the audience to play along and assume control, but that power means the possibility of a “game over.”The room at the Coffee Emporium is quaint, with a few dozen chairs lined up in two rows facing each other. The set design is minimal: a door to the apocalypse on the wall and a jagged crack in the ground formed with painter’s tape. Park is a video game character, decked out in iconoclastic red shirt, short shorts, boots and a shock of black curly hair. He tells you that only you can save the world. But it’s a world where Happiness has been replaced by Growth and Progress. Park is not just your ally; he’s also opposing enemies with shady ulterior motives and feasts on derision. Because the audience determines the action, the show lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. There are challenges, either inviting individuals up to perform a task or the crowd as a whole, and there are just minutes to spare. The tension is high, and there’s no guarantee to finish the game. Park says it’s a 60/40 split, and in fact I only made it two-thirds of the way through. This is all backed up by Clark Jewett’s original music, reminiscent of those propelling synth anthems from Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.Park is from Philadelphia and just played a fringe festival there, as well as a national tour. For that reason, the show feels very lived-in and fine-tuned, with no low points or awkward silences. His natural charisma and in-the-moment improvisation keep audience members on their toes. But everything is fun and unique, not too heavy. Even when you lose, there’s a lesson to take back to the rest of the world.So be prepared: It’s very physical and interactive and breaks down personal space. As one audience member said afterward, the whole group became friends immediately as if they’d actually been on a journey together. You could participate in the show a second time and have a completely different outcome: That’s an exciting prospect.