If your life depends on the hand you’re dealt, that’s especially true in the newest show by D.C’s quirky devised theater group Dog & Pony. When you play “A Killing Game” — and you will play, because the audience is expected to act and react to the events that unfold, choose-your-own-adventure style — a bad hand could mean death.
A good hand means death, too — it’s just a question of how many times you, the audience, will die in the mysterious plague that strikes an idyllic small town. It’s not even a spoiler alert to say this: You will meet your maker in “A Killing Game,” multiple times, in several different and dramatic fashions — all determined by the playing cards you’re handed as you walk in the theater.
As Peter Marks wrote in his review on Monday:
“A Killing Game” upsets the traditional balance in the relationship between theater attendees and those they’ve paid to see. The gratification is immediate: The show turns anyone who cares to be an improv performer into one. Mind you, you can hang back and take in much of the 80-minute experience. But Dog & Pony is bent on ensuring that to some degree you become a participant, even if that means simply collapsing in your seat when the playing cards you’re dealt at the start of the evening instruct you to.
Yep, that’s one of the deaths. But how many others are there? Crunching the numbers, it looks like an audience member could die up to seven times in one show, with about 18 different possibilities for those deaths. Everyone will die at least three times.
When I saw the show on Friday, I was lucky: only four deaths! Dog & Pony ringleader Rachel Grossman says that’s the average number of times each audience member will kick the bucket. First, I was stricken with a mysterious coughing fit in the first scene, followed by convulsions in scene three. If you go, a tip from this reincarnated critic: Pick a comfortable position to die in, and one where you can see the action around you. You might have to hold it for a few minutes, and you don’t want your arm to fall asleep, since you might need it later for the other tasks you’re asked to perform to ward off the plague, like spraying hand sanitizer on a pizza.
There was another death, one that affects the whole audience, but I’ll leave that one as a surprise. However, I did not die of “Gangnam Style” like some other audience members did, as Marks noted in his review. (Though hearing that song for the millionth time does sort of make me feel a little bit apoplectic.)