Otronicon V.4 opened Friday at the Orlando Science Center for another annual edutainment orgy of video-gaming goodness (and continued through Jan. 20). I arrived just in time for Saturday's headlining event: an honest-to-God Halo-themed wedding between Desirai Labrada and John Henry, two local Xbox addicts who fell in love through online competition.

MTV News, which has been following the story, was reportedly in attendance among the dozens of videographers inside the nearly overflowing Darden Theater. Onstage, glowing columns of bubbling fluid framed a virtual projected backdrop; a string quartet played selections from the first-person-shooter's musical score. The wedding couple and their party wore fairly traditional tuxes and gowns with subtle Halo symbols. It was a secular ceremony with no gratuitous gaming references in the vows, save for a final "I now pronounce you teammates for life." You'd barely have known it was a cyber-inspired ceremony if the officiant hadn't been wearing full "master chief" armor from head to toe. Watching him walk down the steep theater aisle with visor down and flashbulbs firing was the most "Legendary" thing I've seen all week. (www.amatchmade

Elsewhere in the event's four floors of "nonstop gaming fun," the Wii Fit balance boards and Guitar Hero fauxtars were doing brisk business. But I detected a disturbance from the dark side. Maybe it was the legion of Star Wars storm troopers mock-menacing kids playing as Jedi in The Force Unleashed. Maybe it was the sorry state of many of my old friends in the "classic arcade lounge": My Galaga fantasies were foiled by a failing fire button and Donkey Kong Junior was down for the count, but Frogger still kicked ass. Or maybe it was the overbearing overkill of omnipresent advertising from presenting sponsor Full Sail University, which looked more heavy-handed than at past editions.

But I think it had to be the evil juju emanating from the afternoon entertainment: a screening on the supersize CineDome of the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, an infamous 1993 bomb starring Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi and Dennis Hopper as King Koopa. When Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton rail against the moral hazard of video games, this is what they are talking about.

Night of the Nightwolf

Fledgling comedy troupe Night of the Nightwolf (Michael Poley, Ed Doyle, Ryan Showman, Imar Dacunha, Michelle Wargo and Katherine Leis) held their third performance at Stardust Video & Coffee last Saturday (Jan. 17). I was unable to accept invitations to their earlier shows, despite their most welcome "we dig your column" flattery. But since this program was billed as a "Hand Awareness Telethon," I made a point of attending in support of this important cause. After all, many of our problems today can be traced to left hands being unaware of what right hands are doing.

The Nightwolves must be mastering that new-media marketing (they've got some witty videos posted on because the coffee-and-video spot's stage area was stuffed beyond standing-room-only. Arriving a few minutes late, I ended up shut out of the show and missed most of the first act, but I was able to squeeze in the back right before intermission. Act 2 began with the "comedic exploits" of Kyle Rogers, the self-styled "king of Sanford." The baby-faced, longhaired comic offered a bewildering blend of stilted stand-up and tunelessly tortured songs (accompanied by preprogrammed demo music from his Casio keyboard), mostly bemoaning his baby face and long hair. Bits about testosterone injections and Dateline NBC spinoff To Catch a Predator had a kernel of humorous potential, but Rogers' self-consciously ineffectual style made me so uncomfortable that I started reassessing my evaluation of Dane Cook as "worst comic ever." On the other hand, the girl behind the tip-jar table thought it was the funniest thing ever.

The main cast then took the stage for six comic sketches, tenuously linked by the telethon premise. Scenarios included a scatological People's Court parody; an inhalant addict who murders his trash-talking tomato plant; and an arboreal day-care center ("No, little Cindy, the tree didn't break your arm; the ground did!"). As with the opening act, there were funny ideas in play, like the freelance paramedic proud of his 17 percent success rate, or a hobo "fashun sho" promoting stylish locomotive avoidance.

Long before the apocalyptic ending (featuring a gun-toting newborn), it was evident that this group still lacks the polish to properly present their artistic intent in front of a live audience. While a couple of members (notably Poley) have stage presence, the majority seemed to be reading off invisible cue cards. The sense of comic timing that enlivens their online productions was absent in person. Scenes petered out with anemic punch lines, and the few clever clips of video were too poorly projected to see. I left with a renewed appreciation for SAK's Lab Rats; if Night of the Nightwolf had been improv, it would rate a C-minus.

Or maybe that's part of the point, and I'm getting too old to get it. I'm an old-school fan of awkward-pause theater, but when Carol Burnett and Tim Conway cracked up over a flub, it was funny because they were pros. The modern mode appears to be to skip right over competence and craftsmanship and jump straight to affecting underprepared incompetence. If that is the group's schtick, someone please let me know.


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