"In Love and Warcraft" Provides Much Appeal for Millennials

259076

Clockwise from top left: Rosie Narasaki, Eddie Vona, Justin H. Min, MichaelBarnum, Jessica Jade Andres in "In Love and Warcraft". Photo: M. Palma Photography.

The historical record is admittedly sketchy on the matter, but people in “the theater” have probably been worrying about getting younger butts in their seats  since Athenian teenagers first discovered the joys of passing notes on papyrus. But here’s one novel idea of how to lure young ‘uns in the 21st Century: write plays that address issues they care about.

And we’re not talking about the evergreen stuff—young love, disaffected youth, coming-to-age tales. It’s 2015, people. You want Millennials off their iPhones and computers, then it’s time to face reality and give them what they want:

Video games.

That’s what Madhuri Shekar has done with In Love and Warcraft, a funny, engaging and sharply written play being given its west coast premiere by Artists at Play, in association with the Latino Theater Company. World of Warcraft, the sprawling, massively popular online role-playing game, is the backdrop for this deceptively simple tale of a young college student trying to navigate the confusing currents of love and sex.  WOW characters, jargon and strategy fill the play, which includes a 22-entry glossary, explaining terms used in the play, like cosplay and wipes.

But don’t fret if your only experience with gaming ended with eight and 20-sided dice, or you remember when comic books were the featured attraction at comic conventions. Shekar, helped considerably by a likeable and energetic cast assembled by director Alejandra Cisneros, has crafted a play that doesn’t require familiarity or even interest in figuring out what MMORPG means, one that both rejoices in, and pokes fun at, the obsessive nature of digital and flesh-and-blood experience.

Evie (a sparkling Anita Kalathara), is a World of Warcraft junkie. She’s part of a hardcore digital crew hell-bent on climbing up the competitive ladder. It’s not clear if they’ve ever met, but she’s also dating Ryan (a funny Michael Barnum), their romance consisting solely of avatars and strats. But Evie is also a hell of a writer, and has a part-time job writing love letters, Facebook posts and text messages for lovers either trying to woo prospective paramours, or salvage existing relationships. When she meets a prospective client, Raul (a slick Justin H. Min) she finds herself helplessly attracted to someone in real life—and finds that path to be as fraught with menace, and far more complicated, as a dungeon expedition.

One of the issues with the play is also, ironically, one of its charms. Both Evie and Raul seem too perfect. They’re sincere, open, honest and revealing. That makes them likable, but it also dilutes the dramatic waters. Evie’s issues with the physicality of a romantic relationship is never adequately explained. For some reason, she’s scared of physical intimacy but the why isn’t clear and it makes the question of whether she is capable of overcoming that dread, which is the play’s central question, not feel as compelling as it might.

What does work for Evie is that while the thought of human touch beyond snuggling terrifies her, the thought of slaying opponents in the digital realm inspires her. Clearly Shekar is making a point of the relative ease between committing on-line (whether to a multi-player game or anonymous comments) and in the temporal realm. It’s a rather obvious point these days, but the way Shekar lays it out, set within the context of real people struggling with real issues while embracing, or avoiding, an incredibly popular digital activity, makes it feel far more resonant and compelling.

Even the earthiest character, the sex-obsessed Kitty (a finely honed Jessica Jade Andres), seems almost too well put together. This dynamo, who finds it as hard to function between rolls in the hay as a dipsomaniac between gulps out of a bottle, is positively sex-crazed, but, as written, and portrayed, it’s all likeable and harmless, rather than edgy or fully humanized.  That works for the play, which is a romantic comedy with some sharp writing and biting wit along the way, but ultimately a smile-inducer. But you just kind of wish that someone, ANYONE, had any warts to reveal. All the characters, with the possible exception of Ryan, are dealing with obsession, if not downright addiction, and while Shekar absolutely crafts an enjoyable and watchable ride, the terrain, at times, feels too effortless for the characters; they seem to lack secrets, or a touch of grey, or even outright darkness, around their choices. (As far as the cast goes, special mention to Eddie Vona and Cheryl Umana, who each plays multiple roles, doing fine work with the limited time they have with each).

Cisneros does the best she can with the spatial limitations. Most of the chairs are at stage-level and when scenes are portrayed downstage, it makes it difficult to see the actors, but that’s the only unfortunate blip on a clean, effective staging, one that actually veers into a realm of Warcraft toward the play’s climax where, for the first time, digital avatars take on human dimension. 

In Love and Warcraft may not change your perspective on time-sucking digital activities, but Shekar’s interesting take on certain kinds of contemporary relationships—where words and feelings are less about emotion and heart than they are deploying the right commands and strategies-might make you ponder the choices you’re making in the other kind of games you play.

In Love and Warcraft

Artists at Play in association with the Latino Theater Company

Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles

Extended thru October 18, 2015

Thursday & Saturday at 8 p.m. Sun., 3 p.m.

Tickets: $22-30, call (866) 811-4111 or visit website for more information.