A tense build-up; a long-anticipated entry; desperate shouting of instructions; begging for supernatural aid; an explosive climax; a satisfied finish. Depicting all the passion of a major raid against a difficult monster in the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft (WoW), the first scene of No Rules Theatre Company’s DC premiere is a collision between romance and fantasy combat, heartfelt pleas and argot-filled cacophony, broad sex humor and genuinely human connection. It’s as all-encompassing an introduction to the play you’re about to see as you could ask for – if the title, In Love and Warcraft, wasn’t clear enough – and the more you enjoy its juxtapositions and energy the more you’ll love what follows.
In that scene, we’re introduced to the three-pronged contradictions of California college student Evie (Anu Yadav): she is simultaneously a respected badass warrior inside the game, a love-letter-writer for hire on campus, and an avowed virgin. While she has a boyfriend, Ryan (David Johnson), she rarely meets up with him outside of the pixelated landscapes of WoW, let alone gets physical with him.
Her roommate, the ever-bouncy Kitty (Dani Stoller), doesn’t understand how she can resist the temptations of sex, since, as Evie says, she has experienced no trauma, has no medical issue, has no religious objection, and doesn’t identify as asexual.
The truth is Evie doesn’t know herself. All she knows is that she’s good at stringing together words, either as keyboard commands to defeat beasts in WoW or as Facebook posts to convince her clients’ exes to reunite with them. Playwright Madhuri Shekhar may not actually know either, but it’s not the historical explanation she wants to explore in this romantic comedy; she simply wants to follow the thread that opens up when our friend Evie is confronted with the greatest challenge she could face from within her comfortably secluded lifestyle – a massive crush on Raul (AJ Melendez), a client who is so attractive Evie “can’t look at him directly sometimes” and who, more importantly, really likes her back – and doesn’t run away immediately from Evie’s “kissing-only” stance.
To help us understand Evie’s world, Shekhar presents us with a parade of comic characters played by Jamie Smithson and Kaitlin Raine Kemp. They’re the hilariously ribald hairdresser; the no-filter public cellphone conversationalist; the immature client of Evie’s who, when asked why he wants to get back with his ex, can only muster grunting noises about the quality of said ex’s posterior. It’s no wonder Evie has some apprehensions about leaving her World of Warcraft for the world of hookups. Some of these over-the-top characters cross the stage completely detached from the story in between-scene skits, so it’s thanks at least in part to the balanced, lively direction of Joshua Morgan that the jokes, no matter how sketchy or loud, never interfere with the sensitive reality of Evie, Kitty, Ryan’s, and Raul’s lives.
IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT
Closes Jan 25
No Rules Theatre Company at
4200 Campbell Avenue Arlington
1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call 703-820-9771
The whole cast is stellar, and handles both the rapid-fire selfie-era slang and the subtle work of finding the characters’ hearts underneath their mannerisms with aplomb. Smithson and Kemp switch between accents, personas, and several of Collin Ranney’s spot-on costumes with impressive rapidity. And Yadav holds down the center in a delightfully unforced, funny performance, making all the different sides of the character mere facets of one whole person. She’s complemented by Stoller, who helps make it obvious why these two seeming opposites are in fact natural friends.
While there are no real surprises in store for anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy before, all the details ring true and the proceedings remain brisk and engaging throughout. Shekhar and the No Rules folks have a clear understanding of the online and offline social circles presented, ensuring that even the few jokes that don’t land simply pass by quietly instead of thudding awkwardly. It would not be a surprise to see Shekhar writing for TV in a few years, maybe on something like one of the more intelligent, genre-crossing, youthful comedies like (recently canceled) Selfie or Jane the Virgin.
The story may occasionally try too hard to make Heavy Symbolic connections between online gaming tropes and the perils of intimacy, but such minor sins are forgiven when the swords and fur start flying in a climactic battle scene portrayed from inside the game, staged with an amusingly accurate mimicry of computer-generated stiltedness (hello, limited avatar poses!) by fight choreographer Casey Kaleba.
With the sea changes we’re experiencing in the world these days in the ways we communicate, a clever, if slight, story like In Love and Warcraft is to be praised for taking an even-handed, amiable look at how one woman, at least, deals with the tides of technology and sexuality.
In Love and Warcraftt by Madhur Shekar . Directed by Joshua Morgan . Featuring David Johnson, Kaitlin Raine Kemp, Al Melendez, Jamie Smithson, Dani Stoller and Any Yadav . Scenic design: Jane Fink . Lighting design: Cory Ryan Frank . Sound design: Neil McFadden . Costume design: Collin Ramey . Fight Choreography: Casey Kaleba . Stage manager: Code Whitfield . Produced by No Rules Theatre Company . Reviewed by Brett Abelman.