A pair of night-and-day different dads cheering on their teenage sons at a high school football game would seem more likely to inspire an odd-couple comedy à la Richard Dresser’s hilarious Rounding Third than an electrifyingly edge-of-your-seat thriller, but this is precisely what Trey Nichols has concocted in his one-act Fathers At A Game, now completing a brief Best Of Fringe extension following its original Hollywood Fringe run.

Luke-Baybak-and-Tony-Williams-in-Fathers-at-a-Game.-Photo-by-Rich-Clark Moe (Tony Williams) and Eddie (Luke Baybak) could hardly be more dissimilar types, and not simply because one is African-American and the other white. There’s also the matter of attitude. Whereas Moe sees fall as the start of a season of holiday joy, Eddie sees it as the end of summer, a season marked by shortening days and increasingly chilly nights.

No wonder, then, that optimist Moe seems intent on involving gloom-and-doom Eddie in the excitement of the game their boys are playing, providing running play-by-play commentary and encouraging his buddy to join in cheering their sons’ team to victory.

1017375_10201259660872332_705789991_n Still, there are hints that something isn’t quite right. For one thing, logic tells us these two fathers must be somewhere in their mid forties, yet the men we see onstage are clearly a decade or more younger. There’s also Eddie’s odd reaction when Moe happens to call him by the nickname “Egghead,” and the discomfort in Eddie’s right leg that has him occasionally doubled over in pain.

If you’re anything like this reviewer, you may soon find yourself wondering if playwright Nichols has transported us into “another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind, … a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.” (You know the dimension I’m referring to, and it’s not the Daybreak Zone.)

Then, again, might there not be a perfectly logical explanation for what we’re seeing and what we’re sensing?

Whatever the case, as Fathers At A Game progresses, its occasional moments of comedy gradually give way to some relentless dramatic suspense likely to keep you on edge all the way through to its shattering climax.

971749_692729287936_1121425554_n (1) Fathers At A Game runs less than three-quarters-of-an hour, and thank goodness for that. I’m not sure I could have stood the suspense much longer—and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.

Its final moments left me drained, moved, and utterly exhilarated.

Nichols deserves extra credit for having written a play that doesn’t leave you scratching your head wondering if even the playwright himself could explain the “why” behind each startling twist. You might need to compare notes with a fellow theatergoer after the show as I did, but having done just that, I can only ooh and ahh Nichols’ entirely logical, hole-free plotting.

Equally impressive is Vesna Hocevar’s razor-sharp direction and a pair of performances that only grow in intensity and power. Williams and Baybak may only be onstage for forty minutes, but they make as indelible impressions as actors in a play three times as long, and though her part is tiny by comparison, Wendy Elizabeth Abraham is very good indeed in her exceedingly tough cameo role.  (No, I won’t tell you who “Dixie” is, and you should avoid looking at any production stills that give away her identity.)

941217_697174459776_958533162_n Fathers At A Game not only proves exciting Best Of Fringe fare, it proves that Fringy doesn’t have to mean slipshod.

Yes, the play’s scenic design is really just two large triangular bolts of canvas extending across the full width of the stage, joined together upstage at their narrowest points. In other words, easy-on, easy-off as any Fringe show must be. Still, what makes this design so extraordinary, and so extraordinarily effective, is Danijel Sraka’s edgy, suspenseful sound design and his otherworldly video projections that enhance Fathers At A Games’ nightmarish undertones at every step. Costumes by Hannah Kim and Libby Letlow’s makeup further add to the play’s entirely unFringy look.

Fathers At A Game is produced by Nichols, but it is no vanity project, though the playwright/director has ample reason to be proud.

Anton Ray is stage manager. Jenny Gillett is co-producer, Diana Woody co-producer/graphic artist, and Angel Martinez graphic designer.

At its current running time, Fathers At A Game is precisely the right length to continue on the Fringe Festival circuit accumulating kudos and possible awards.

Now, if Nichols can come up with an equally exciting second one-act, Fathers At A Game could make for half of an exciting evening of theater, and one that could easily have a long post-Fringe Festival life.

Ruby Theatre, The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
July 11, 2013
Photos: Rich Clark

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