By Fin Coe
At Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 773-697-3830 or TheNewColony.org; $10-20. Runs through: Nov. 4
The New Colony is dedicated to the works of new authors, inviting you to take a risk on a show you've never seen.
Author Fin Coe and director James Fleming's Fun Harmless Warmachine attempts to make good on that potential before hitting a wall. What results is a narrow miss, so close to being a profound statement on toxic masculinity and loneliness, that I can't wait to see version 2.0 of this script.
Tom ( Daniel Chenard ) is disillusioned with his life, job, and adulthood in general. His passion is online gaming, but his family and persistent friend DC ( Londen Shannon ) clutter his text history and distract him from it. When a co-worker ( Emily Marso ) turns him down for a coffee date, Tom rages so hard at his fellow gamers that he attracts the attention of a gaming society, the Order of the Sword. Soon, Tom is enlisted by Niko ( Victor Musoni ) and Hunter ( Robert Koon ) to join the Order, whose members game, but also battle outspoken detractors and dox anyone who has wronged them on social media.
It's innocuous enough to Tom, who is so won over by the camaraderie and respect he is handed, that his real life starts to improve. It doesn't occur to him to examine how complicit he is in the violence that the Order wreaks, until he has someone important he could lose, Ekaterina ( Ayanna Bria Bakari ).
When Fun Harmless Warmachine gets a moment right, it gets it incredibly right. It suspends us in a white forest of glowing screens, and overwhelms us with bullet fire and shrill feedback. The dialogue plants us exactly where adolescence meets adulthood, with characters specific enough to be living in your building or working in the next cube.
It only takes one scene to unravel the whole work: a pointed confrontation meant to amplify women targeted by online harassment. In it, the characters speak with unearned emotional intelligence, forcibly furthering the plot, and making leaps they hardly seemed capable of, the scene before. I swear, if one more secondary female character has to help a white male protagonist self-actualize, she'll earn a free sub.
The cast of Warmachine is an unrelenting force for good, however, and because they are double-cast, they breezily shift from internet trolls to jolly midwesterners. Victor Musoni is the perfect example, shining as both sinister Order operative Niko and Tom's beaming brother Jack. Emily Marso suffers bravely through unwanted male attention as Melissa, and as DC, Londen Shannon is the buoyant best friend none of us deserve. As Tom and Ekaterina, Daniel Chenard and Ayanna Bria Bakari are equal parts magnetic and breakable. This production hopes to make us face our dangerous proclivities, and the screen-cap is nearly complete.