The past few years have seen a boom of plays trying to tackle the digital age. It’s an interesting prospect for theatre, a medium that in so many ways is diametrically opposed to the technological trends that the contemporary world is having growing pains over. It almost seems an impossible feat sometimes to create a play intensely engaged with the digital age. But that doesn’t stop so many from trying, and now it’s the Washington Rogue’s turn with their new play, Agents of Azeroth.
The play sees two down and out NSA agents scouring the world of World of Warcraft for illegal Internet activity. Their time in the game intersects them with two players – one a 15 year old math prodigy and one a 34 year old math professor – who start to develop a predatory online relationship that seeps into the real world.
With plays like this that explore the world of the Internet and gaming, there’s always a certain level of translation going on. Part of the viewing experience is almost a game in itself, trying to parse out what terms and phrases the play is proficient in.
And although the oddity of World of Warcraft, being the backdrop of a play in 2016, never quite goes away, Agents of Azeroth has at the very least done its homework. While so many plays that attempt to delve into this landscape feel cheap and voyeuristic, Agents of Azeroth tries its best to reach a certain level of respect and authenticity.
But authenticity only goes so far, and while Agents of Azeroth creates a believable world, it doesn’t necessarily create a compelling one. Characters engage with loaded themes of technology and freedom, but at a certain point the depth of these themes becomes too much for the play to handle. Chaos theory, security, privacy, technological connection, and more are all on the table, but as it turns out four math nerds of all trades are masters of none. There is so much crammed into the roughly mapped out conversations of the small cast that almost everything gets short shrift. In a play where audience fluency is already so tenuous, this leaves much feeling hollow.
AGENTS OF AZEROTH
January 20 – February 14, 2016
The Washington Rogues
at Mead Theatre Lab, Flashpoint Gallery
916 G St NW
Washington, DC 20001
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $10 – $15
Website and Tickets
Check for Discounts
It should be noted, though, that for any issues Agents of Azeroth might have, the cast brings a level of sincerity to the play that makes it far more engaging than it perhaps has right to be. Each performance is fine in its own right, but the actors’ chemistry is what really makes the play pop. The respective pairings of Megan Behm and Shawn Durham as well as Grant Cloyd and Dillon Greenberg give these characters a sense of history and humanity that could have so easily been lost. It’s a difficult script to act, but the cast does their best to knock it as far out of the park as the play will allow.
But while the cast’s earnestness makes their characters worth caring about, it is the play’s own earnestness that makes it so hard to get behind. This manifests in the usual ways – unmotivated monologues, pontification in place of dialogue. But, again, the cast helps these from feeling too on the nose. But as the play reaches its conclusion, it backloads so many bold-faced, onion chopping diatribes into its final scenes that no amount of talent could make them more palatable.
Ruminations about security and surveillance are salient points for Agents of Azeroth to question, but they are handled with a certain adolescent angst that makes attempted moments of profundity fall absolutely flat. On the one hand, one of the characters is fifteen, and her lines suit her well. On the other, when every other character sounds the same age, that’s when you have a problem. It reached a point when it was time for curtain call, and headlines about the NSA were being thrown on the back wall that you might as well had a slide asking “Who are the real monsters?” in all caps under a picture of Big Brother.
It’s these traps that Agents of Azeroth can’t help but escape. It tries so hard to validate itself that eventually it simply feels pedantic. There are real questions at play here, and Agents of Azeroth asks them more productively than any other play I’ve seen that tries the same thing. But in the end, there’s a certain disconnect between the questions being asked and the way they’re being asked. The play doesn’t ever allow itself to hide something from the audience. It does the inconceivable of showing and telling everything in its hand. It’s almost an impressive feat that for a play about characters who know so much, they never feel like they know more than the audience.
For a play about chaos, it all feels predictable.
Agents of Azeroth by Jennifer Lane. Directed by Ryan S. Taylor. Featuring Megan Behm, Grant Cloyd, Dillon Greenberg, Emily Crockett, and J. Shawn Durham. Scenic and Projection Design: Patrick Lord. Lighting Design: Martha Mountain. Sound Design: Kevin O’Connell. Costume and Props Design: Jesse Shipley. Stage Manager: Malinda Nafziger. Produced by the Washington Rogues. Reviewed by Sean Craig.