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If you’re the sort of person who lustily belts out K-pop at your local tavern’s karaoke night, you’ll have a fine old time at The Killing Game, a death-addled comic exercise in guided improvisation and audience participation from the merry extroverts at dog & pony dc. If, on the other hand, you’re me—and you like a tight show that sticks to its point and knows when to stop indulging its sillier impulses—you’ll feel a creeping dread set in at around the hour mark, which is roughly when Death: The Game Show begins.
It’s not called that, of course, and perhaps I’m being too flippant about a production inspired by serious consideration of scenarios and themes already explored by no less an absurdist master than Ionesco. But The Killing Game, based on that playwright’s 1970 riff on plague and the human response to the unspeakable, does go on a bit, even at a runtime of 80 minutes.
And dog & pony’s approach layers on more whimsy than the slender conceit can quite support. It’s one thing to stage a series of sketch-comedy vignettes designed to provoke an audience to reflect on its own mortality, and to consider just how strange our usual range of coping strategies (see: denial) truly is. It’s another to also invite your patrons to join in, playing various medical experts and eyewitnesses—and then still another to inform them that live social-media interaction is encouraged. I’m probably not the only attendee who discovered that between reading the deck of improv cue cards, following the #killinggame hashtag, and composing increasingly impatient tweets of my own, I’d gotten lost in a less-than-focused theatrical experience.
Some of that’s on me, of course. The dog & pony cast is having a fine old time, and selling the concept with a cheerfulness that’s appropriately creepy. And there were certainly plenty of audience members who threw themselves happily into the experiment, taping their neighbors into chairs and scrubbing up with Purell and dying cheerfully on demand. (Again, and again, and again—there are seven segments to the evening, if I counted right, and each one ends with most everyone exterminated.)
Me? By the time one lucky playgoer drew the cause of death “ennui” from the cheekily named Sack o’ Sick, it felt like a singularly appropriate way to leave this life.