Insert Coin: ‘No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying’ made the gamer inside me tear up

Will Podlewski, Columnist

Video gaming isn’t cheap. With a torrent of online passes, downloadable content and system peripherals taking a huge bite out of gamers’ wallets, it’s harder than ever to get a decent value when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for the next big thing. But in an industry that seems to care only about “Call of Duty” and “Assassin’s Creed,” it’s easy to forget some of the best games out there cost little to nothing to enjoy. That’s why every two weeks, I’ll be showing you a great new way to get your video gaming fix for under $20. So get your quarters ready and game on!

I am sure you, an avid “Insert Coin” reader, have thought at one point or another the only things I ever do are play hours upon hours of video games, review them, go to class and indulge in the culinary ecstasy that is the Willard dining hall. Well, you’d be wrong — I go to plays, too. But no other production I’ve seen in the past year has struck a chord with the gamer inside me as much as “No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying.”

Produced in a brand-new performance space by 1UP Productions in association with Chicago theater mainstay The Artistic Home, “No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying” tells a fairly typical intimate theater story of love and friendship and loss and all those other fuzzy things against the backdrop of two friends’ relationship over “Super Mario Bros.,” the game that launched modern gaming.

In many ways, the story is fairly true-to-life and unflinching: I would not be surprised if the playwright, NU alumnus Ed Krystosek, pulled much of the content from his own experiences. The two characters (named only Players 1 and 2) meet as kids over a couple of controllers and a Nintendo Entertainment System and move on through college, marriage, divorces and cancer. While the story is strong, it indulges every so often in manufactured melodrama, with a seemingly endless parade of misfortune befalling the players. Still, the script is sharp and has its tongue firmly in cheek, even having one character directly address the audience to assure them the production wouldn’t turn into an overly pedantic mess. The comedy is a great boon to the script, and let me be clear in saying that it is real nerd comedy, not just the manipulative reference drops made by Sheldon Cooper and company in “The Big Bang Theory.”

The Artistic Home Studio’s new venue at 1376 Grand Ave. in Chicago is a small one, with seating for about 20 in the black box-style theater that is the norm for small theaters in the city nowadays. I sat in the front row about 5 feet from the actors and the only substantial set in the production: a couch that was designed to look like an NES with the cartridge flap flipping up to make seats for the actors. In a word, it was awesome. The sound design, composed entirely of “Super Mario Bros.” sound effects and 8-bit renditions of pop songs, was similarly fantastic.

In many ways, “No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying” reminds me of the similarly geeky 2009 film “Fanboys,” which follows the exploits of a group of friends as they try to break into Skywalker Ranch to steal an advance copy of “Star Wars Episode I.” Both have a strong base of solid story with large helpings of both heart and niche nerd comedy. I would enthusiastically recommend “No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying” to fans of video games or theater — besides, where else could you ever see a play that features an 8-bit rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance?”

“No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying” will run 11 p.m. every Friday and Saturday until Feb. 16. The suggested donation for students is $10.