2014
07.09

I finally have passes to a PAX show.

PAX, for those not aware, is short for Penny Arcade Expo, an extremely popular gaming convention run by the guys who do the webcomic Penny Arcade. Recently, they announced PAX South, a new PAX convention that would take place in San Antonio. As this was far closer to me than any of the other PAX locations (Seattle, Boston, and Australia), I really wanted to go. This afternoon, passes went on sale for PAX South, and I managed to snag myself two passes for Saturday (one for me, one for Jennifer). While a three-day pass might have been smarter, I’m waiting until the next year for that. Jennifer and I both tend to get bored after the first day of a convention, and besides, there’s other stuff in San Antonio and Austin we’d want to do for the weekend.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I got passes as soon as I did. Less than two hours after passes went on sale, three-day passes had already sold out.

The one thing I found interesting is that the one big glitch I’ve encountered didn’t even happen to me. Someone else with the name “Bishop” went through the registration process, and when he went to complete the order, all he got was a blank screen. His bank showed that the payment had gone through, so he contacted PAX and asked them to send him his confirmation. They sent him mine, instead.

How do I know about this? Well, he tweeted about it.

I found out about it because by pure coincidence, he and I are both followed by Dan Amrich, formerly of GamePro and Activision and currently with Rocksmith, and he pointed us out to one another after that tweet. It’s sounding like PAX screwed up (outside of sending him my confirmation); while the money was definitely paid they have no record of his order. That REALLY sucks, especially if they try not to give him a pass as a result. He shouldn’t have to suffer for their screwup.

In any event, I’m REALLY looking forward to PAX South. In particular, I’m hoping to say hi to the NetherRealm Studios guys, plus get to try both Mortal Kombat X and Batman: Arkham Knight. I’m also sure there will be other games announced between now and then that I’ll want to try as well. :-) I admit I’m also interested in taking a look around the tabletop gaming area and seeing what’s available. About all I know I won’t be taking part in is the LAN party; even though San Antonio is relatively close, I don’t have a gaming-quality laptop and I’m not lugging my desktop PC to a city three hours away. :-)

Still, PAX South is six months away. I’ve got plenty of time to get excited about it. For now, I’m just happy I’ll finally be able to go to a PAX. :-)

2014
06.25

We had an interesting night last night.

I suppose we should have realized something was out of sorts when we started noticing our cat Sasha paying an inordinate amount of attention towards our fireplace. I had caught her in there once, and for a good chunk of the evening she sat in front of it, just staring at it. Of our three cats, Sasha is the hunter; she has the best track record of locating intruders and terminating them. We weren’t sure what was going on, and put it down to her being weird (like she can be sometimes).

We had already gone to bed, had the lights out, and were watching The Daily Show. As we were watching, I saw a black shape sail right in front of the TV. I almost literally did a double-take, wondering if I was seeing things. Then I saw the black shape circling over us, and I brought it to Jennifer’s attention by saying, “There’s something in the room with us.” For her part, Jennifer thought I had lost my mind and meant there was someone in the room. I got up, headed to the door quickly, and turned on the light.

That was when we both realized that I wasn’t seeing things. There was a bat flying around our bedroom.

I’m not proud, but some combination of my “aspieness” and fear drove me to run away. I’m sure the bat didn’t mean me any harm and was probably as scared as I was (if not more so), but I was caught completely off-guard and had absolutely no idea what to do.

Jennifer got out as soon as she could, and we tried to think of a strategy. Pretty soon, she had an idea: she went into the garage, and grabbed a small raft float thing we use for when we go to the pool. It’s large, round, can fold, and the inside is mesh fabric. Her plan was to go into the bedroom, and try and catch it with the float.

Her plan worked flawlessly. As soon as she walked into the bedroom, float open, the bat flew right to it and latched onto the mesh. Our guess is that he hadn’t been able to find somewhere to land until then, so he was grateful for the perch. Jennifer then closed the float like a taco, carried it out the back door, and let him loose.

We’ve scheduled for someone to come out this weekend to check our chimney, just to make sure there are no other uninvited guests. Otherwise, we’re just glad no one was hurt in that little adventure, whether bat or human. :-)

As for Sasha, when the bat was flying around our bedroom, she was sat on the bed just watching it (it was well out of her reach). If I had to imagine her expression or thoughts, it would likely be one single sentence, directed to us:

“I told you so.”

2014
06.23

A digital magical quest game…

I’ve mentioned it on here before, but my all-time favorite board game is called Talisman. Talisman is an epic quest game for 2-6 players where you play one of several types of characters, on a quest to retrieve the fabled Crown of Command and rule the land. With three regions to navigate, numerous places to explore, many monsters to fight, etc., I find each game lasts about one hour per person playing. I was introduced to the game when I was in eighth grade; sometime in college I lost my set, but my friends Jeff and Malinda got me a new set a few years back, and I’ve been playing since.

I’ve also mentioned that there was a video game version of Talisman in the works, but it ended up being cancelled due to issues with the game’s quality. That disappointed me, because I would have liked to be able to play the game against AI players when I didn’t have actual people to play against.

Fortunately, another company called Nomad Games got the chance to take another shot. :-)

Their first release was a game called Talisman Prologue, a single-player game in which players can follow different quests to learn how to play their character better, culminating in a solo quest to reach the Crown of Command. The game serves as a fun introduction to the world of Talisman, and not only includes characters from the original game, but from some of the expansions including The Blood Moon.

They’ve since followed it up with Talisman: Digital Edition, which is the full board game for multiple players. The game plays with four characters at all times, though if you have fewer than four human players the game substitutes AI opponents. The PC version of the game is tied to Steam, and you can invite your Steam friends to play (provided they have the game, of course).

The game itself plays just like the original board game, and even gives options for house rules. The biggest worry I have with video game adaptation of board games are cheating AIs; the iOS version of Monopoly and PC version of Risk are known to be bad about that. Fortunately, Talisman: Digital Edition’s AI is very balanced and I saw no evidence of unfair dice rolls. The game also allows you to set how long a player has to enter in commands, so as not to let the game get bogged down by one person being away from his keyboard. In addition, games can be left off and resumed at later times.

Since its release, the expansions The Reaper and The Frostmarch have been released, allowing for additional characters, encounters, and endings. There are also extra characters available as standalone DLC, which as near as I can tell are exclusive to the video game. Another exclusive feature of the videogame is the concept of runestones, which are “cards” you can earn that will alter your play experience in future games. For example, a possibility during the game is that your character is turned into a toad for three turns, thus losing all of his/her/its items, followers, and gold. The last runestone I acquired reduces the time spent as a toad to two turns.

All in all, I really have enjoyed Talisman Prologue and Talisman: Digital Edition. Both are available for PC (via Steam) and iPad (not iPhone). It’s a fairly inexpensive way to get to play Talisman, and is very well implemented to boot. I highly recommend giving them a try. :-)

2014
06.16

A second try at In-Home Streaming…

While I had previously mentioned that it’s looking more and more like the Playstation 4 will be my next (this?) generation console of choice, I have to admit that I’ve still been considering my PC to be a viable alternative. That hasn’t been helped by the fact that at least one game I want, Gauntlet is going to be PC-only. While I wouldn’t mind playing my PC games on my 24″ monitor, I’d personally rather play them on my 32″ HDTV. The first thought I had was to get something akin to the Alienware Alpha, which is a PC meant for gaming on a home theater or TV. However, at a price point starting at $550, it was more than I was willing to pay.

However, something occurred to me: I could try Steam In-Home Streaming.

I’ve posted about In-Home Streaming in the past, specifically in regards to streaming Mortal Kombat. I had mostly done it on a lark, but now I thought it might be a valid option for me, gaming-wise. In addition, I thought it might be useful for letting Jennifer play her LEGO games on the main TV. I checked the laptop, and as I suspected, it had an HDMI output. Hooking it up to my TV went without incident, and I was able to connect the laptop to Steam on my main PC without a problem.

The main hurdle I felt I had to overcome, however, was the network bandwidth. Before, I had been using an older Linksys router, and thus lag was definitely a problem. However, I had replaced it with a new Netgear router with 5 GHz Wireless-N capability, and gigabit ethernet ports. The 5 GHz Wireless-N was faster than standard 2.4 GHz Wireless-N, so I figured at the very least I would get a speed boost from the wireless.

Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case. As it so happened, my laptop only connected to the router using the 2.4 GHz Wireless-N, so I ended up getting network lag anyway like I had before. That essentially ruled out its use for the living room, as I wasn’t going to run a network cable through the walls. As the laptop was right next to the router anyway, I grabbed a network cable and connected the laptop into one of the gigabit ethernet ports.

Fortunately, the performance of the In-Home Streaming increased dramatically, but not to a point where a game was actually playable without a hell of a lot of lag. Curious, I noted a message on the lower left corner of the laptop’s screen: “SLOW ENCODE”. It was then that I realized the problem wasn’t on the laptop’s side, but on the desktop PC’s side. Essentially, the PC’s CPU wasn’t powerful enough to play the game and do the encode at the same time without lagging. Upgrading that would require me to purchase a new motherboard and new memory as well, and I’m not sure I can justify the cost of that just to play games on my TV… especially if I’m planning on getting a dedicated game console anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. Steam’s In-Home Streaming service is fairly useful, but you need a fairly modern and powerful CPU and a fast network connection (5 GHz Wireless-N or Wireless-AC minimum) to run it. As my desktop PC can’t handle the encoding portion for now, I’ll just keep with playing directly on the main PC, and deal with getting a console for the TV in the future. :-)

2014
06.10

Sony may just have won me over.

Last night, two of the big three console manufacturers had their E3 press conferences. Microsoft was first, followed by Sony. I ended up watching both, and had to admit that Sony had the more impressive showing.

It should be noted that while I had owned a Sony Playstation 2 during the generation-before-last, it wasn’t because I really liked Sony more than the others. My original console of choice for that generation was the Nintendo GameCube; I had purchased a Playstation 2 because Mortal Kombat: Deception was originally not going to be on the GameCube. The Playstation 2 seemed to have more games than I wanted than the Xbox, so I went that route.

The usual deciding factor for me in regards to getting a console is a “must have” game. For the Playstation/Nintendo 64 generation, no game caught my interest so I stayed pretty much PC-only. For the Playstation 2/Xbox/GameCube generation, the game that sold me on a console was Metroid Prime for GameCube. For the Playstation 3/Xbox 360/Wii generation, the game that sold me on a choice was Gears of War for 360.

Up until now, there hadn’t been a game that really SOLD me on a console. Microsoft’s press conference yesterday didn’t sell me on any games, either; while Halo 5: Guardians looked interesting, for example, I only had a raised eyebrow for Sunset Overdrive. Sony, on the other hand, got my attention with one game: No Man’s Sky. There was little in the way of introduction; the gameplay video was shown to us without context.

Wow. Just… wow. I honestly didn’t know what to make of it when the character was exploring the presumably alien world. I raised an eyebrow when the character jumped into his fighter, and started flying away. I was sold when the ship left the atmosphere into space, and a fleet of capital ships jumped in nearby. I knew I wanted the game when the fighter flew into the atmosphere of another, different planet. The transitions were seamless and the graphics wonderful.

Later on, Sony discussed a piece of hardware that only solidified my decision: the Playstation TV. The Playstation TV is a small device that fits in the palm of your hand. With it, you can actually play games from your Playstation 4 on a second TV via Remote Play (similar to Steam’s In-Home Streaming). This might solve a problem Jennifer and I are currently having, in that Jennifer LOVES the LEGO games, but her console is a Nintendo Wii. WB Games has not released any LEGO games for Wii since LEGO The Lord of the Rings, and she’s been a bit bummed about not being able to play LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. While we could get them for my 360, I would feel bad about making her have to isolate herself in my office to play, especially when she’s used to playing on our home theater. (My 32″ LCD HDTV is fine for me.) This way, Jennifer could play her LEGO games via the home theater. :-)

I admit to surprise, really, because this past generation actually made me rather antipathic towards Sony. I actually had three major problems with Sony during the Playstation 3 era. The first was that the console was too expensive. The second was the absolutely horrid security model for Playstation Network that allowed it to be so thoroughly compromised that it was shut down for several months in 2011 for repair. The third was the forced removal of OtherOS, which allowed Playstation 3 owners to run Linux on their consoles. This removal was forced via firmware updates, even while the official website still touted OtherOS support. I simply felt Sony didn’t care about their customers.

That appears to have changed, however. Not only is the Playstation 4 in a reasonable price point, they’re doing a fairly decent job of making game functionality available to players. I’d been hearing from friends that they’d been better this generation, and it seems to me like this is the case. I’m not sure when I would pick up a Playstation 4 (and a Playstation TV), but it’d be closer to the end of the year. As it stands, the two games I could see getting for it (other than No Man’s Sky) are Mortal Kombat X and Batman: Arkham Knight, both of which will come out in 2015.

Until then, I’m fine with my Xbox 360 and PC. While an Xbox One isn’t definitely out, Microsoft’s going to have to show a hell of a lot more than they have to convince me to get one over a Playstation 4. :-)

2014
06.07

Buying reading local, whenever possible…

My reading queue seems to be growing faster than I can finish stuff. :-)

I had posted before about setting Sundays aside as my reading days. As of late, that habit has been broken, though I have been doing a relatively decent job of reading through books. As soon as I finish books, however, I end up adding more to replace them. The queue is ever-changing, and what may have been a high-priority read at one time sometimes ends up at the end of the line. Amusingly enough, the three books I mentioned in the aforementioned post are still in the “to read” queue.

Admittedly, the majority of our book buying recently has come from Amazon, if only because of the price and convenience. That being said, whenever possible we like to buy from local bookshops… and by local, I mean “locally owned”. We try to avoid Barnes and Noble if we can at all help it, for example, but we have been known to go into Half-Price Books. On our last couple of trips to Austin, we made a point to stop at BookPeople, an independent bookstore which has the claim to fame of being the largest in Texas (independent or chain). My last trip, I bought several books, including the proto-Lovecraftian horror anthology The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, both volumes of The Intergalactic Nemesis, and a non-fiction book called Doctor Who and Philosophy.

Today, as part of our errands, Jennifer and I were in the Rice Village area. Instead of hitting Pearland Coffee Roasters for coffee, we decided to hit House of Coffee Beans in the Village. As it so happened, House of Coffee Beans is literally next door to my favorite Houston bookstore, Murder By The Book, so Jennifer had no problem with us going there first. :-)

It might come as a surprise to some, but my favorite literary genre right behind science-fiction/fantasy is the mystery story. I don’t collect mystery books anywhere near as much as I do sci-fi/fantasy, but I really do enjoy them when I get them. Some of my favorite TV shows have also been mysteries, like the various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, Castle, Diagnosis Murder, In the Heat of the Night, and so on. A whole bookstore of mystery novels, as you might imagine, is right down my alley.

The problem, however, is that I get lost easily, as my knowledge of the mystery genre is not nearly as advanced as my knowledge of sci-fi. That’s where the staff of Murder By The Book shines, in that they have always been friendly and willing to help and lend their expertise. As a result, I end up leaving with a book I didn’t even know existed (much less had intended to get). For example, as mentioned in the previously referred post, I had noticed a book by ex-CIA operative Valerie Plame on display, and bought it on the staff’s recommendation. I ended up enjoying the book.

This time, while Jennifer picked up the latest Christopher Moore book, I picked up two books for myself. The first was a book by an author named C. Robert Cargill called Dreams and Shadows. While Cargill had written the well-received horror movie Sinister, I had first become aware of him when he was a reviewer for Ain’t It Cool News, under the pseudonym “Massawyrm”. Cargill’s reviews were easily my favorite thing about the site at the time; I had known of his book, but this was the first time I had seen a copy and decided to pick up a copy for myself.

The second book I picked up was called Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr. Unlike Dreams and Shadows, which I had at least heard of, Loki’s Wolves was completely unknown to me. The series itself is called The Blackwell Pages; I saw the second book on a table, with a note from a staff member recommending it, especially if one liked the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. That in particular drew my eye, as Jennifer and I both enjoy that series. (She’s much further along in it than I am.) I eventually found Loki’s Wolves (the first book), and my decision to purchase it was cemented when the gentleman checking us out praised the book rather highly.

Both books are in my reading queue now; I’m thinking I may have both read by the end of the month, but if worst comes to absolute worst I’ll save them for our upcoming trip to Corpus Christi. After all, other than playing in the water, my favorite thing to do at the beach is sit back in a chair and get lost in a good book. :-) I’m just hoping I can find time to go back to Murder By The Book at some point soon to get some more reading material.

But then, that would depend on me making space in my reading queue so it doesn’t become unmanageable. ;-)

(BTW, if you have a Goodreads account, you can find mine here. I don’t review books per se, but you can see what I’ve rated books I’ve read, and what’s in my queue.)

2014
06.06

When Jennifer and I went to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike this past Sunday, we happened to notice a flyer in the playbill advertising the next season of the Alley Theatre. Reading it, I saw that one of the first plays they had listed was Dracula. This was the original stage play based off of Stoker’s novel, which became the basis for the 1931 classic film starring Bela Lugosi and the 1977 film starring Frank Langella.

As I’m a fan of vampire stories and Dracula is my favorite vampire novel, I figured it would be fun to see. However, I then noted that the flyer said the production features “the extraordinary designs of Edward Gorey”. At that, my heart sank a little.

If you’re not familiar with Edward Gorey, he’s a dark and macabre artist who I personally know best for having animated the intro/outro for the old PBS series Mystery! (and later Masterpiece Mystery).

I used to have a beautiful hardcover edition of Dracula with art by Greg Hildebrandt, best known for his work on the original Star Wars poster. The artwork in the book was a mixture of penciled drawings and painted works, with models playing each of the characters. (There was a credit list at the end of the book.) It was my favorite edition of the book, and to this day I wish I knew what the hell happened to it.

After that disappeared, my parents found a new hardcover edition of Dracula for me, with art by Edward Gorey. I was thankful for the gift, but it just wasn’t the same as the Hildebrandt version. I admit I tend to be a very visual person, and I really enjoyed how the Hildebrandt edition’s artwork not only showed the characters, but showed them in the different scenes throughout the novel. By contrast, the Gorey edition only had simple cartoonish character portraits.

I still have the Gorey edition, but I’ve since picked up a new hardcover copy with artwork by Becky Cloonan. Both Cloonan and Hildebrandt illustrate the novel’s events as opposed to doing simple portraits, but where they differ is that instead of using models and going for realism like Hildebrandt, Cloonan goes for a graphic novel style. It works very well for the book, and the book in fact ends up with far more illustrations, with the typeset sometimes going around the art. I have to say, I’m really digging this edition, about as much as the Hildebrandt edition.

As far as the Alley Theatre production goes, I’m still very undecided whether I want to go or not. While I’d like to see the original stage play, I can’t say that it’s my favorite version of the story. On the other hand, it can’t be as bad as Dracula: A Musical Nightmare, a musical version I had seen close to twenty years ago that turned out to be a comedic play-within-a-play that was frankly a right mess. In addition, Gorey’s designs seem too cartoonish/comical for me to really take seriously. That may be unfair, however, as the only reference point I have with them regarding Dracula is that book. On the other hand, at least one of my favorite Alley actors is starring in the production.

I’ve got time to think on it, as the play doesn’t open until October. I might spring for a matinee performance or go if there’s a good offer on tickets. Otherwise, as of right now, I’m leaning towards not going. It’s a shame, but while it might be my favorite vampire novel, I don’t feel the need to go to a performance if I’m not sure I’m going to like it.

2014
06.05

I admit to a little bit of disappointment and annoyance. These are rare emotions in me when it comes to a tech upgrade.

The other day, Jennifer and I went to one of our old haunts to get some dinner. This particular location has Buzztime, which is a gaming system designed for bars. If you’ve ever been to a bar and some of their televisions were showing trivia and/or poker, that’s Buzztime. (I’ve written about them before.) This location we were going to had undergone some renovation; among these renovations was an upgrade to the Buzztime system.

Before, Buzztime could be played by either a clunky plastic Playmaker unit with an LCD screen that would as often as not be broken or stop working during gameplay, or via a smartphone app on iOS or Android. As you might imagine, I preferred the latter. Now at post-upgrade locations, Buzztime is played using special tablets running what appear to be a custom version of Android, and with several single-player games in addition to the trivia and poker games. I even noted that the unit had a credit/debit card reader on it, for a reason that was not at all clear.

The thing that threw us at first, however, was that absolutely none of the televisions were showing Buzztime content. We kind of raised our eyebrows at that, as we began to wonder if they were actually using the Buzztime stuff. I had thought they were, as I had received an email regarding their having it. When the waitress walked by, we requested two Playmakers and for one of the televisions to be switched to Buzztime. The waitress informed us that the Buzztime content was entirely on the tablets.

She turned out to be right. When we received the tablets and signed on, we found that the trivia screens et al that would normally have appeared on the televisions were now on the tablet, and that you just pressed on the choice on the screen to indicate your answer.

That left it with two major problems, in my opinion. The first problem was that the mobile apps were now pretty much useless at these locations. I prefer playing using my own device, and while I had briefly launched the app when I arrived at the restaurant to see if our location was still listed, I didn’t check to see if the questions would appear on the screen on my phone as well. I decided to ask Buzztime’s Twitter account about it yesterday, and got this answer:

So, unless I’m at a location that hasn’t upgraded, I can’t use my phone anymore. That’s a bummer, considering my experiences with the previous generation of Playmakers.

The other problem is that it reduces the social aspect of the games. To use us as an example, before we would be looking up at either each other or at the televisions. We could even “share” while we were on separate games; Jennifer would be playing trivia, and I would be playing poker, and I could give her answer suggestions while she could get an idea of what was happening with the poker game. Now, though, our eyes are down on the tablets, concentrating entirely on our own games. If we were not playing the same game, she would need to show her screen to me if she wanted help or if I wanted to see how she was doing.

It’s a shame, really. I had wanted to like the upgrade, but now Buzztime seems a little less fun. I may give it another try or two, especially if they update their mobile apps to allow for playing in upgraded locations. Until then, I’m not as much in a hurry to get back and play as I used to be.

2014
06.04

A return to the Gauntlet

I’m a happy nostalgic gamer right now. :-)

A few months ago, WB Games announced that they were rebooting one of my favorite arcade games from the 80′s: Gauntlet. If you’re not familiar with Gauntlet, it’s a top-down dungeon crawler game, with adventurers in search of treasure while trying to stay alive. The latter part was difficult, as enemies of all kinds were plentiful, and your health constantly diminished even without taking damage. There is a reason the game is known for the saying, “Elf needs food badly!”

I used to love playing Gauntlet in arcades. The graphics were wonderful for the time, and all four characters (warrior, valkyrie, wizard, and elf) were actually unique and had different strengths and weaknesses. For example, the warrior was the best brawler but was very weak in magic, while the elf was very fast and great at ranged attacks, but couldn’t melee worth crap. :-) The game had a sequel and another reboot in the 90′s which I admittedly rarely played. I even got the NES port by Tengen that gave an actual story to the game (well before Gauntlet Legends). I ALMOST finished the game, but got stuck on a level in the last section and ended up giving up. To be fair, I’ve since seen the ending and it wasn’t worth the time I had put in. ;-)

Today, WB Games released another trailer for their reboot of the game.

I have to say, I really like this.

The addition of different gear with different effects brings the game in line with modern dungeon crawlers, yet the game definitely keeps the feel of the original four characters. If anything, it reminds me of Gauntlet by way of Diablo III (which is not a bad thing for me). The game also retains some of the original sound effects (if the trailer is to be believed), and game mechanics such as keys opening walls still remain.

It’s not surprising that it looks as good as it does, though. I’ve also played another game by Arrowhead Game Studios called Magicka, which was a quirky and enjoyable dungeon crawler in its own right. Based on time with Magicka and what I’ve seen so far, I’ve pretty much considered the game a definite buy. It’s available for preorder via Steam, and should be out on September 3rd. Normally I would buy it for my Xbox 360 instead of PC, but while Arrowhead/WB Games have hinted at a console version, one has not been officially announced.

Still, I’m excited for this game, no matter what platform I’ll be playing it on. Here’s hoping Arrowhead does as good a job with this as they did with Magicka.

2014
06.03

It’s been a fairly quiet stage theater season for us.

While Jennifer and I both love theater, very few of the productions being shown this year have really drawn our attention. Nothing at Theatre Under the Stars looked interesting enough for us to spend the high price to go, and Bayou City Theatrics‘s season mainly made us go, “Huh?” As far as non-musical theater goes, our favorite is Alley Theatre, but again there wasn’t anything playing that we found too terribly interesting. The exception came when we were waiting for the Brit Floyd show (which was across the street from the Alley), and we saw one of the shows for this season was Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. We knew it had been the winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, so we thought it couldn’t be THAT bad. We went ahead and got tickets, and saw it this past Sunday night.

So, how was it? Well, I liked it more than Jennifer did.

The entire play is pretty much a homage to the works of Anton Chekhov; Jennifer was far more familiar with Chekhov’s work than I was, so I was basically only seeing it on the surface without getting the reference. The play itself was about two siblings (one adopted) living in the same home they had since childhood, spending their days bemoaning the fact that they never did anything with their lives. Their expenses are paid by their sister Masha, who works as a movie actress. Masha returns home with her protegee and love interest, the handsome yet dim Spike, and informs her siblings that she intends to sell the house. The play then proceeds with the siblings worrying about Masha’s decision, Masha’s own insecurity about being upstaged, and Spike’s inability to keep his clothes on.

All in all, I enjoyed the performance and found it quite amusing and heartfelt. Admittedly, my favorite character was the housekeeper Cassandra, one of two non-title characters. Her character was funny, sassy, and resembled her namesake from Greek legend in that she would make dire predictions, but no one would believe her. The actress who played Cassandra played her with plenty of attitude to pull the role off.

I have to say that I was surprised by the other non-title character, Nina. Introduced as a potential rival for Spike’s affections, I was expecting the literal girl-next-door to be an antagonist, working against Masha to get Spike. The character was very sweet and kind, and instead of being interested in Spike found herself working alongside Vanya until the climax of the play, in which she helps Vanya perform a stage work he had written.

The only characters I really didn’t care for were Spike and Masha. Spike was one-dimensional and most likely intentionally so, more concerned about himself than those around them. Masha, on the other hand, was shrill and insensitive, and I found it difficult to feel sympathy for her as she worked to upstage everyone around her. Admittedly, neither Jennifer nor I have ever actually liked the actress who plays her, so my bias is probably showing there.

Again, not being familiar with Chekhov’s works, I only saw the surface elements in it. Once Jennifer explained Chekhov’s style to me, I got an impression of the deeper meaning; however, I get the feeling that I enjoyed it despite the Chekhov symbolism. Based on how Jennifer described his works, I don’t think I would enjoy them very much at all. Perhaps that’s why I liked the play more than she did.

Still, I was glad I got a chance to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and would recommend giving it a try if it’s playing near you.