‘In Love and Warcraft’ at No Rules Theatre Company

There is a lot to like about Madhuri Shekar’s In Love and Warcraft even before the opening scene. This newly minted full production of a romantic-comedy brings to the DC area a playwright representing a new generation of playwrights. It is a generation with its own creative takes on the human condition and the uses of technology to closely connect people.

Anu Yadav (Evie) and Dani Stoller (Kitty). Photo by Teresa Wood.
Anu Yadav (Evie) and Dani Stoller (Kitty). Photo by Teresa Wood.

As Joshua Morgan, No Rules Artistic Director and director of In Love and Warcraft wrote in his program notes. “I am constantly looking for plays that will tell diverse stories and represent different people.”

Shekar is a relatively unknown playwright. She is the recipient of the 2014 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. In Love and Warcraft was seen at The Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights’ Festival in August 2013.

In Love and Warcraft is a lively play about the expression and self-repression of intimacy in its many forms. Shekar employs plenty of up-to-date cultural reference to bring fresh settings and her insights into the contemporary world of romance, love and sex. Her script depicts a place where avatars and real life individuals careen about; colliding with plenty of kinetic energy along with unanticipated sweetness and deep friendship against all odds.

The show circles around a college student named Evie. She is master in the virtual world of battles and war. She is skilled in her ability to craft email love letters and apologies for other people. But she is rather clueless in her own relationships. She is so fearful of being close to another human that she freezes at the touch of another. As played by very likeable and emotional expressive Anu Yadav, Evie is a bundle of unexplained neurosis. As written by Shekar, Evie is without a back-story to enlighten the audience about her reticence to not become her own version of a 40 year old virgin.

Evie’s life is turned upside down when she meets Raul, a non-gamer guy (AJ Melendez as a tender, sensitive man willing to give up plenty for the woman he loves). He may set her heart aflutter, but there is a point at which a steel barrier comes down and she will go no further. What is to be done when she flinches at his attempts to go beyond pecks and smooches? What is to happen when she hates being distracted from her gaming time?

Well, her unconventional college room-mate and “hook-up” maven Kitty (played to the a neon flashing hilt by a most liberated Dani Stoller who seems to have been born to be an over-the-top brazen character) tries to intervene to be helpful, but much goes array. Evie’s ex boy-friend Ryan is a gamer, the leader of a Evie’s virtual guild of players and a rather awkward young man when it comes his emotional real life people skills Played by newcomer David Johnson, Ryan is a stamerring guy living with snapping phrases except when he is in-game as a warrior avatar knowing all the rules and right moves.

Two other actors; Kaitlin Raine Kemp and Jamie Smithson play a number of manic characters. Too often their characters, as written, slow down, if not stop the forward progress of the play. For instance there is a rather clichéd fey hair dresser speaking accented English with a story-line involving a bit too-much-information. Yet at another point playwright Shekar brings the audience a young woman who self-identifies as a Christian. She totally nails the “why” she waits to have sex before marriage. If only, whip-smart Evie had something similar to explain her views point about sex.

Jane Finks’s uncluttered, minimalist scenic design gives the audience an opportunity to use their imagination to fill out details. Many of the details are filled-out by Collin Ranney’s costume designs. Each character has a personality and a “uniform” that readily “explains” who they are without a word spoken. Neil McFadden’s sound design includes the use of a pop songs between quick black-out scene changes; most often with lyrics about the electric nature of love.

In Love and Warcraft is a script and production with plenty of deep issues to chew on. Should friends try to help someone move away from a comfortable virtual gamer world existence? How far will a non-gamer friend go into the virtual world and cos-play to try to connect with someone they care about?  As Director Morgan writes in his program notes, this play depicts “a world where sex, science and gaming are all valid, exciting ways to get close to someone.” Hmm, “all valid”? Really?

In Love and Warcraft  will be a treat for the curious theater-goer, those with a year-round “Fringe” sensibility or those avid to see what is in the minds of Millennial playwrights. It should also be of interest to those who may have felt underserved if not disenfranchised by plays that don’t resonate with their own lives. For others, well, it may be well beyond a comfort zone of language or gamer knowledge without a open sense of curiosity and adventure.

In Love and Warcraft is a most tantalizing theater on the cutting-edge of the new. This is good news for DC area theater goers who hunger for some atypical and distinctive new tastes.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

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In Love and Warcraft plays through January 25, 2015 at No Rules Theatre Company performing at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.

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