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A&E: 'Scoundrels' con at Clowes; we play games at home

December 17, 2007

This week, thoughts on "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" at Clowes Hall," new games from Indiana manufacturer Fundex, and a handful of holiday movie releases.

The con game musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" jauntily bounced into Clowes Hall on Dec. 11 for a week-long stay and withstood a lifeless opening 15 minutes or so before at last making a connection with the crowd. Swinging charts, clever lyrics, relatively foolproof physical comedy moments and a patient crowd willing to chuckle at every smutty line certainly helped the show overcome its summer-stock-level production. Rising above the well-voiced but unexceptional cast, Jenny Gulley played con-artist-target Christine Colgate as if Judy Garland were in possession of Tracy Ullman's body. Her arrival at the end of the first act was a shot of life the show needed.

A tough sell for single-ticket buyers, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is the kind of show that may not be a must-see, but it certainly rounds out the subscription season. It's always good to see a few shows in the Broadway in Indianapolis lineup that Indy hasn't yet seen-even if the particular production is just OK.

If you did miss this one, keep your eyes open in a year or two when I wouldn't be surprised if it showed up on the Beef & Boards, American Cabaret Theatre or Theatre on the Square lineup. And while those companies might have tighter budgets, I believe any of them could create an equal-if not superior-production.

Last week's IBJ featured a story on Fundex, the company that created the popular card/dice game Play Nine, which has risen in the ranks of most-loved games almost to the level of classic. OK, maybe not classic, but it does have Uno in its sights. That's a remarkable achievement. For a board, card or dice game to break out these days is very difficult. Not only do computer games lead potential players away, a new game is also fighting for attention against reconstitutions and revised versions of the classics.

(OK, here's the rant. I've got nothing against recasting classic board games. My son and I have had good times playing Disney/Pixar Monopoly, where Mr. Incredible and Buzz Lightyear are moved around the board instead of the wheelbarrow or the shoe. No harm there. And help yourself to Indianapolis C o l t s Monopoly. But when you start taking away the paper money-the stuff that taught me and, 35 years later, my son, how to add big numbers, make change, calculate percentages, etc.-you are violating the very spirit of the game. Plus, the new dumbed-down versions aren't nearly as fun. My request: I don't care if you already have one of these wrapped and under your tree-kindly return it for a game of value.

Rant over. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I was going through what games you are likely to find filling department store shelves.) New games are also competing against based-on-the-TV-series kits (Sorry, but "Deal or No Deal" just doesn't hold up without big money at stake), leaving little room on the Toys-R-Us shelves for good new stuff.

So with the holidays here-and with a broader definition of "entertainment" than this column is used to-I figured it was a good time to check out the latest offerings from the Fundex folks.

The verdict on this year's crop: Decidedly mixed.

Here's a nutshell look at four.

Hot Potato

Tagline: "The Musical Potato Passing Game"

$14.99

The Game: In this case, the potato you toss isn't hot-but it does have a friendly face and tension-building music that randomly shuts off to determine who loses. You get a potato chip for each lost round. Accumulate three and you're fried.

Assessment: The chips are a good idea-but they're easily lost. The rest is welldesigned and exactly what you'd expect. Why didn't somebody think of this sooner?

Rage

Tagline: "The Card Game of Revenge!"

$6.99

The Game: An Uno-like game with the added gimmick that each round is played with fewer cards than the last one. Plus, you get bonus points for guessing the number of tricks you will end a turn with.

Assessment: Not bad, although the rules are a bit confusing. (After four plays, I'm still not quite sure what an Out Rage! Card does).

Gassy Gus

Tagline: "The Gut-Busting Game That's a Blast!"

$29.99

The game: Players take turns turning over food cards, each with a gas value. A burrito, for example, has a value for four-meaning that the player has to pump Gus' head four times to increase his belly size. The goal is to force your opponent to serve up the food item that causes Gus to release his gas.

Assessment: The game is a hoot-except that after only a few plays, Gus' inner balloon had trouble retaining air, thus rendering the game unplayable. (I even tried a second Gus and had the same unfortunate result.) With some retooling, this could be a lowbrow classic. For now, frustrating.

Shake

Tagline: "The Dice Shaking Risk Taking Game"

$6.99

The Game: In the first round, players role their own dice to determine a score. In the second, the high-scorer can risk it all on a series of shakes of another set of dice.

Assessment: Quick to learn, a welldesigned container for storage, and fun com petition for all ages. With plenty of decisions to be made and the possibility of comefrom-behind victories, this one is a smallscale winner and a great stocking stuffer.

Happy holidays? Not in my recent moviegoing experiences. The theaters seem to be inundated with downers-"No Country for Old Men," "The Kite Runner," and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" are three I've seen recently that prove an awkward fit with the decked halls of the movie theater's surrounding malls.

That doesn't mean the films don't have their merits-all three are excellent in their own ways. (Although I'm with the group that objects to the "No Country" ending, not because it's open-ended, but because it feels too literary after a very cinematic film.)

The feel-good Disney hit of the season, "Enchanted," on the other hand, does manage to enchant-although it doesn't feel destined to become a classic. That's because for every clever moment or scene (I'm particularly fond of the "Happy Working Song") there's also a cringe-worthy pandering to consumerism. Despite the goodwill she generates, when our heroine solves her problems by going shopping, it feels like a sellout rather than a celebration.
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