There’s a good chance you’ll be won over before you even get to the actual script for Crystal Skillman’s play GEEK!
As evidenced by her previous work Skillman is a thoroughgoing playwright who always delves deep into the minutia of her subjects. Her play The Vigil, or The Guided Cradle really digs into the world of medieval torture and, more recently, her and her husband Fred Van Lente’s staged biopic about comic creator Jack Kirby, King Kirby, bravely illuminates the life of a crucial figure in comics history.
True to form, Skillman begins the text of GEEK! with a half dozen pages of charming little notes explaining cosplay, the time honored geek practice of dressing up like a favorite character at conventions. She also make suggestions for the video components in the script and ways that a production can trick out the theater so it really feels like a real cosplay convention. After a few practical notes on the set for the play, she says:
There are many low budget solutions to the play and GEEK!, for sure, is a play all about the imagination – have fun imagining how this play moves on stage! Yay, theater!
She then goes on to suggest some projected slides that future productions may want to use to introduce audiences to the world of cosplay, like the ones that play in a movie theater before the previews. (“Wouldn’t that be fun?” she writes.) The best one is:
HAPPY HUNTING! Bows and crossbows are AWESOME but must be kept in a quiver! Arrow tips! Bows should be loosely strung with a weak material like yarn. Yay, yarn! Have a good con and always remember to play safe, o’ my darlings!
People always talk about Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neil, who were both just as poetic in their stage directions as they are in their dialogue. The thing that’s particularly endearing about Skillman’s notes before the script is the unity in voice with the rest of the play. There is no disparity between the way Skillman communicates with potential future scenic designers and the way Skillman communicates with her audience. Skillman believes we are all supposed to experience this thing together, o’ my darlings.
The actual story of GEEK! follows two cosplayers named Dayna and Honey on a quest through a convention dedicated to their favorite anime, Dante’s Fire. Dante’s Fire (which Skillman invented for the purposes of the play) is a funny riff on The Divine Comedy, but Dayna and Honey’s journey is in practice more in line with the Wizard of Oz. They are off to find Joto Samagashi, the largely inaccessible creator of Dante’s Fire, and give her a DVD of some of their cosplaying videos. But why?
Ah, well, that’s where the play, which in the hands of a lesser playwright would have sure just been an airy romp through the fun world of cosplay culture, gets a little more dense. Dayna and Honey have come to the convention straight from Honey’s sister Ellen’s funeral. Cosplay and specifically cosplaying as characters from Dante’s Fire was something that the three of them shared before Ellen committed suicide. The trio had arranged to come to this convention and present Samagashi with a collection of their cosplay videos as a gift — now, Honey and Dayna feel compelled to do this as a kind of tribute to Ellen’s memory, even if they can’t fully express why.
Along the way they encounter cosplaying friends, security guard enemies and mean girl frenemies. There is a jousting match and a giant Jiggly Puff-esque creature. But most importantly, there is a real and messy friendship at the center of all this wild action. At any given moment Dayna and Honey could be dancing or they could be fighting. That the whole play is set at a cosplay convention is certainly why GEEK! warranted inclusion in this collection; that the cosplay convention is really just a means for these young women to unravel there complicated relationship is what makes it a truly great play.
The thing that it is important is context. Skillman clearly has a knack for researching and applying it to her work, but she never forgets to remind us about what these things mean in the larger sweep of history. This is why The Vigil, or the Guided Cradle splits its time between medieval Prague and and the present day, and it is why King Kirby begins and ends with a Sotheby’s auction where the auctioneer doesn’t even know what comic she is talking about.
And this is why in GEEK! something seemingly silly and escapist like a cosplay convention is paired with something deeply upsetting and real like the death of a sister or friend. Skillman — brilliantly — uses the play to illuminate the ways in which these seemingly silly and escapist things can BECOME important things to people, and can even be used as healthy means of coping with something not-so-silly.
In this specific case it happens to be cosplay, but the odd things that bring us comfort could be anything: Dune novels, Buffy DVDs, Phish concert recordings, or a collection of custom made football jerseys with the names of your favorite Russian philosophers monogrammed on them. This is probably why the play is titled GEEK! and not COSPLAY!
Like I said, Ms. Skillman understands that we are all in this together, o’ my darlings.
For more information or to purchase a copy of Geek Theater visit: http://underwordspress.com/underwords_book/geek-theater/