If I had any regrets about the biggest stage of my career, it would be that I didn’t choose to do more of my own art. However, on the positive side, that means that I have more of an opportunity to see how others have done it, so I have reviewed the new Cirque du Soleil production “Coming-of-Stage” to give you a first-hand account of what it’s like to be on the other side of the curtain.
After debuting at the Phish festival in 2009, The Artful Escape has been a key part of the Phish experience for the past six years. In that time, the stage has evolved from a simple, straightforward, 45-minute show into a tightly-packed, multi-act extravaganza with a runtime of about an hour and a half. The setlist is the same every year, but the scenes change with each performance. And now, with a brand new stage built from scratch, this year’s show has a different feel, a different feel to it.
A new play is in town in this area, and it is titled “Coming-of-Stage”. The evening was filled with the sounds of the world outside, the distant sounds of traffic, the talk of nearby coworkers, and the murmurings of nearby doors that slammed nearby. The cold air that blew across my skin was cold enough that I could see the goosebumps form on my skin, but with the added noise of the world, they were quickly gone. I was in the middle of my routine, of which I did every morning, and the sounds were nothing new to me. There was nothing unusual about my day. There was nothing at all.
I surveyed folks on Twitter about Wes Anderson a few weeks back because I was curious how they felt about the eccentric filmmaker. The majority of responses were favorable, but I didn’t mention that the poll was meant to influence my evaluation.
The Artful Escape has a Wes Anderson vibe about it. Its characters talk with a weirdness that they believe is genuine. The jokes are dry and a little pretentious at times. Everyone is dressed as though they are students at a preparatory school.
This space rock-infused coming-of-age tale, however, isn’t just a way for the filmmaker to show off his distinctive aesthetic. It takes all of those oddities and tosses them into a nebula of beautiful colors, personalities, and emotion, emerging as something unique and unforgettable in its own right.
Review of The Artful Escape: A Coming-of-Age Story
Francis Vendetti lives in Calypso, Colorado, a small town with probably just one noteworthy feature: it was the hometown of late folk-rock star Johnson Vendetti, a figure who is obviously intended to resemble Bob Dylan in appearance and voice. Francis is hailed by the community as the reincarnation of a local legend, but the young man is skeptical.
Francis, like his uncle, is musically talented, but he is on the verge of collapsing from the pressures placed on him by family, friends, and even strangers. Posters for his debut performance prominently display a photograph of his uncle, who is deceased, rather than Francis, the evening’s star.
The stakes are high for Francis, so on the night before his big performance, he tosses and turns until his subconscious transports him to a psychedelic sci-fi universe full of rocking aliens, loving fans, and the freedom for any young person to become who they want to be, not who they’ve been taught to be.
While the game’s nearly papercraft visual aesthetic is instantly amazing, it truly takes off when Francis’ head goes to this alien realm. The Artful Escape is one of the most aesthetically stunning games I’ve ever played, easily winning the category’s superlative for at least 2021.
The Artful Escape takes you to a variety of strange planets in a 2D manner, with no two places being same, yet all of them being jaw-dropping. This is a game that will leave players with their mouths gaping at the style of it all, but there’s plenty of content too, thanks to the way players may riff on Francis’ guitar at will almost constantly, waking raucous inhabitants and bright flora alike.
Francis’ journey is a fairly typical coming-of-age tale. It’s written with obvious trepidation by the authors, who are trying not to let the narrative get lost in a maelstrom of colors and forms. Despite knowing where Francis’ tale is going from the start, I enjoyed every minute of it.
This is an Annapurna film through and through, with a cast of voice performers that includes some well-known stars like Carl Weathers and Jason Schwartzman. Beethoven & Dinosaur is a new studio headed by a former touring musician and space rocker, and every lyrical line given and every psychedelic scenario developed reflects his knowledge and passion for that universe.
The Artful Escape is a power fantasy, but it’s not like the ones you’ll find in other games. Players will fight aliens in jam-bandy competitions based by the electronic party game Simon, armed only with a guitar. They’ll leap, glide, and slide over alien buildings as well as colorful planetary landscape in between.
In neither instance does the game provide much of a challenge to the participants. If you mess up an instance of this “Simon Says” game, your opponents will just repeat their riffs until you get it right. Failing to complete a platforming segment teleports you to a location just a few feet away.
The Artful Escape is clearly more of a mood piece than a game intended to challenge most players, but since it’s so stylish and frequently hilarious, I didn’t mind the absence of conventional gameplay.
Choosing conversation choices is maybe the simplest element of anything called gaming, yet it’s also the greatest part. Everyone in The Artful Escape speaks as though they’re reading from a lyric book. Francis’ choice of words, sometimes funny, more often grandiose, is intended to build in him the self-confidence and self-identity he lacked in Calypso.
Francis is free of the expectations that had been gnawing away at him in this strange environment. Francis will recite your hand-picked name and details like magical charms warding off evil spirits as you put together his “origin” tale for everyone to hear throughout the universe. Francis is the dazzling showman he wants to be on distant worlds amid amorphous blobs of alien life, and it feels great to be a part of his coming-of-stage story.
While the game looked great on my Series X and was optimized from the start, it did have one recurrent problem that I believe affects all platforms: during a discussion, a line of speech would sometimes be missing audio. It wasn’t a big issue, but it was startling each time it occurred, considering how much I loved the characters and narrative.
Review of The Artful Escape — The Bottom Line
- Stunning visual style
- Characters that are amusing and memorable
- A beautiful tale of lost and regained self-confidence
- Audio is sometimes absent during talks.
- Gameplay in the conventional sense is often absent.
The Artful Escape is a delightful, hilarious spectacle from start to end in its six or so hours of gameplay, despite being a very short and simple game. Francis’ tale and the far-flung places he travels on his quest to trust in himself and create his own destiny were fascinating to me.
Some players may laugh at the project because of its unique style of comedy, but I anticipate it to be loved by drama kids, garage rockers, and general misfits everywhere. The Artful Escape sounds like a psychedelic jam band and tells a tale that sounds like someone added a few drops of acid to Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling tea.
[Note: The Artful Escape was given by Annapurna Interactive for this review.]
- the ascent – 2021