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Your Life as a Dungeons and Dragons Game: A Review of NKU’s Y.E.S Festival production of “Initiativel


By Alan Jozwiak

Life changes as easily as a roll of a multi-sided dice.  This holds true if you play Dungeons and Dragons, as well as in the world premiere play “Initiative” by Jacob York.  This play is one of the two Y.E.S. Festivals plays offered this season for the biennial festival.

Initiative tells the story of Dave (played by Brandon Critchfield), who is an avid Dungeons and Dragons fan and regularly plays with his best friend Tyrone (played by James Dawson) and his other gaming friends Sky (played by Kali Marsh) and Benny (played by Trevor Browning).  Dave’s life looks happy on the outside, especially with his relationship with his girlfriend Meg (played by Piper Bates).

However, Dave faces a major hurdle.  He learns that he has incurable cancer—and he is only in his late twenties.

To compensate for this fact, Dave engages in ten scenes where Dave engages in a real-life Dungeons and Dragons game where he gets to live the life that might not happen if he dies of cancer.  He does everything from patching up a fight with Meg, as well what would happen if he and Meg had a baby girl.

Director Mike King assembled an amazing cast of NKU student actors for this production.  It was the perfect marriage of script with cast.  The cast was able to celebrate and amplify the material in a way that was compelling to watch.  King allows his actors to interact in believable ways that makes for a powerful production. Such a marriage highlights the best qualities of the Y.E.S. Festival to promote new plays and support emerging playwrights.

Two actors are standouts within this production.  As the role of Dave, Brandon Critchfield beautifully embodies the fragility, uncertainty, and emotional confusion of Dave.  The scenes where Crichfield’s acting comes alive was during those scenes when he had to confide his emotions to either his girlfriend or other friends.  There is a level of believability to his acting that was compelling.

Another standout was James Dawson as Tyrone, Dave’s best friend.  Dawson has a beautiful sense or this material and is able to channel his inner nerd through this role.  Dawson knows how to react to what is happening in the moment and can use that to support his fellow actors in their work.  It makes for a strong performance that gets even better when Tyrone expresses his feelings of loss at Dave’s failing health.

As Scenic Designer, Cat Johnson creates a compelling set that grounds the scenes where Dave and his friends played Dungeons and Dragons.  But this same set could also be transformed into an imaginary space where all of the gameplaying for Dave’s future takes place.  Also, there is a huge dragon (spoiler) that periodically appears above the set to announce doom and gloom that was also compelling to watch.

In the final analysis, “Initiative” was a wonderful addition to the Cincinnati theatre scene that has starting to lapse into more predictable theatrical fare.  It is a sad play, but it is a good kind of sadness that makes you feel. There were a few missteps within the script (I spoke with the playwright after the show and he told me his is revising the scripts), which is a good thing because this is one play that really should have a life on its own.  It was a good choice for Y.E.S. Festival and one hopes that they will choose another one of his plays for latter Y.E.S. Festival productions.

For more information on Y.E.S. Festival and other NKU productions, go the following website: https://www.NKU.edu/academics/sota/events/theatre.html.