An artistic kingdom of fun

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In most mini-golf games, one stroke of the club sends a candy-colored ball up a ramp. If you've timed it right and aimed well, it'll clip past the vanes of a miniature windmill and drop into a hole in the green on the other side. Standard mini-golf stuff, right? The answer is yes, unless you're playing at 5258 Butler St. in Lawrenceville.

In artist Adam Shreckhise's PLAY Parlour, your ball will most likely end up in a pool of discarded scrap materials -- not because you're a bad shot but because the scrap-metal contraption looming like something out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" spit it out in a fit of imperfection. A fraction of the time, your golf ball will slip off the windmill and head down a scrap metal slide to a makeshift hole cut into the carpeted platform. Either way, the essence of fun -- whether from competitive accomplishment or fishing around in the water for your ball --is the point of PLAY Parlour.

PLAY Parlour

Where: 5258 Butler St., Lawrenceville.

When: 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday (doors open at 2 p.m.).

Tickets: free but you must register online at (must be 18 years or older).

Mr. Shreckhise's interactive art installation/arcade will be open from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday for a free tournament, sponsored by The Sprout Fund. For most participants, it will be their only chance to play classic arcade-style games such as skee-ball and foosball reimagined as giant electromechanical sculptures. Their gameplay might not be flawless by conventional standards, but the quirky mishaps feed into the appeal of PLAY Parlour as an underdog gallery of atmosphere vs. practical functionality.

Mr. Shreckhise is a genius at tapping into an innate desire to enjoy a spectacle. His creations are as fun to observe as they are to play. The ingredients include nuts, bolts, even springs wrapped around copper wiring, all of which was someone else's trash just a few months ago. PLAY Parlour thrives on throwing the unlikely together and seeing what happens. At its core, the entire thing functions as a pseudo-performance art piece with participants at stage center.

"This is definitely different than your run-of-the-mill arcade. These games took a patience that you normally wouldn't need when playing standard mass-produced games," says Tyler Marchinetti, 20, a student at the University of Pittsburgh who joined me at PLAY Parlour on Friday. "The fact that these games aren't coin-operated and give you an unlimited amount of play time is nice as well."

Mr. Shreckhise admits he still has tons of kinks to work out; he says the games are only at about 75-80 percent functionality. But that doesn't mean they aren't worth experiencing. Playing water foosball (yes, the ball floats) with a headless Lego person strapped to a coil of old wiring as a goalie is hilarious.

The games' fun, however, is often marred by the consistency of their mishaps. Playing whack-a-mole on a visually dazzling clear plastic set is entertaining for a few whacks, but when the machine begins malfunctioning, the experience devolves into something more along the lines of annoy-and-pummel-a-mole.

Mr. Shreckhise, a Chicago native who grew up in Vermont, Lancaster, Pa., and Virginia, has also constructed new takes on chess, darts and skee-ball. While the play experience on these pieces doesn't differ as much from the source as the artist's mini-golf or foosball do, players feel like they're on more refined turf thanks to the intricate detailing that's gone into each work. The chess pieces, for example, are former trash-heap components, and bright lights illuminate the play surfaces of the skee-ball game and dart board.

Despite all the additions and changes, what many players notice first is what is missing: score boards or score-keeping tools, in keeping with the artist's belief in play for fun's sake.

"I don't think competition is fun when it becomes important to who wins and who loses," he said in an interview in October. "If games can only have one objective and that is to win, I think that's a little silly."

For now, Mr. Shreckhise seems content to preside over his self-made kingdom of fun, sort of like a kid locked up in his treehouse (which doubles as a spaceship in his mind, of course). There is no timetable for the venue's official opening; there's still lots of work to do on bathrooms and other building code issues. He also needs to raise some capital. Although there is no charge for participating, he is accepting donations Saturday.

So, does PLAY Parlour work as an installation gallery? Of course. Does it succeed as an evening destination replacement for Dave & Buster's? Not quite yet. Think of it this way: Instead of making a hole-in-one, you're supporting an uphill battle of artistic vision. And maybe that's a win after all.


Joey Nolfi is a freelance writer:


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