Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “ARCADEFIRE! [The Redemption of Billy Mitchell]”

Kayla Lee, Anthony Nathan, Luke McConnell, Jim Banta, and Ryan Powell in Catalyst Repertory Theatre’s “ARCADEFIRE! [The Redemption of Billy Mitchell].” Photo by Gary Nelson
It’s the 1980s — the heyday for cabinet video games. Billy Mitchell (Luke McConnell) is the King of Kong, holding the world record for the highest score in Donkey Kong. His self-described “nemesis,” Steve Wiebe (Anthony Nathan), is obsessed with beating Billy. Fast forward a few decades. Steve remains obsessed, and his long-suffering wife (Kayla Lee) is on the edge. While Billy still holds the record for the highest Donkey Kong score, he has moved on with his life, opening a chain of hot-sauce-centric restaurants. But then Brian (Jim Banta), who always came in second to Billy’s scores and now appears to be something of a personal assistant, informs him that he is being accused of cheating and stripped of his titles. To redeem his gaming reputation, Billy decides to hold a Kong Off and brings in his old gaming referee, Walter (Ryan Powell). Devilry is planned, loyalties are weighed, and priorities are amended.

The show is cheesy as hell, but it’s supposed to be. After all, what wasn’t cheesy in the ’80s? And to sharpen that cheese flavor, the show is a musical.

Casey Ross wrote the play’s book, inspired (with liberties … lots of liberties) by the true story of Billy Mitchell, and Christopher McNeely created the original music. What the cast lacks in vocal talent they more than make up for with how seriously they take the silliness. Intentional overacting and ridiculous dance moves are executed with perfectly straight faces (after all, Billy is obsessed with perfection in all things). The plot gets really nuts as Steve becomes more and more intent on exacting his personal revenge.

Nostalgia and quirky entertainment coalesce into an over-the-top musical with its own kind of record scores — no barrels needed.

(Technical note: I do recommend eliminating or moving the screen that hangs to the right of the audience. Those of us on that side can’t see anything that is going on. I’d also love to see Steve initially drinking Jolt and then progressing to Red Bull.)

Produced by Catalyst Repertory Theatre

Addendum: At some point, I will post about my encounter with Billy Mitchell at the Sunday performance, but right now, getting the rest of my Fringe reviews up takes precedence. I’ve been told it’s a funny story simply because I went into the show having no idea whatsoever who Billy Mitchell is or that I was meeting him at the theater’s entrance. This caused much hilarity for one of my nerd friends.


freelance editor, writer, and theater critic

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