Playwright Madhuri Shekar updates a genre at least as old as Shakespeare, sets it in today’s world of online gaming, and populates it with an appealing college-age cast to give live theater audiences a delightful, mostly successful romcom for the 21st century in In Love And Warcraft, the latest from the Asian-American troupe Artists At Play (in association with The Latino Theater Company).

English major Evie (Rosie Narasaki) divides her out-of-class time between a) the addictive virtual pleasures of the internationally popular World Of Warcraft, b) an L.A.-to-San Diego long-distance sort-of-relationship with fellow gamer Ryan (Michael Barnum), and c) a side-job writing love letters and romantic Facebook posts for those lacking her gifts with the written word.

12039395_997332423641697_3251478465705458381_n Rosie’s latest client Raul (Justin H. Min) needs Evie’s help in persuading his on-again-off-again girlfriend of the past two years to get it on-again because, face it, make-up sex is the best, right?

Unfortunately, if Raul wants an answer to that last question, he’d be wasting his time asking Evie who, unlike her SBF (slutty best friend) Kitty (Jessica Jade Andres), has never had sex, make-up or otherwise. Heck, she’s never even been kissed.

On the other hand, she does write a great love letter, and it’s Evie’s talent at putting pen to paper that makes Raul realize that he doesn’t actually feel for his ex what Rosie would have him say to her … and that he’d actually like to go out with the prim-and-proper wordsmith.

As to how prim-and-proper Evie turns out to be, well it doesn’t take long for Raul to realize that she’s not just going to be telling him “No” on their first, second, or third date, she just might be saying “No” for the entire long (or not-so-long) run of their otherwise practically perfect relationship.

11065856_997332403641699_1653517591668785699_n Could it be that Evie is not a prude, or scaredy-cat, or religious celibate, but a member of the recently coming-out-and-proud asexual community? Her “lack of sexual attraction to anyone or low or absent interest in sexual activity” (I’m quoting Wikipedia here) certainly sound a lot like a textbook case of asexuality.

Could it be that the playwright who gave us A Nice Indian Boy, Shekar’s fresh, multicultural, same-sex spin on the classic romantic comedy, has written the first asexual-pride romcom, one that will examine the particular pressures involved in a relationship between a sexual person and an asexual?

Well, perhaps not, which it my one major quibble with In Love And Warcraft.

Spoiler paragraph: To have Evie ultimately declare that maybe she was just scared after all, it’s as if Shekar had written a play about someone who expresses deeply felt same-sex desires and then decides “Oops, turns out I’m straight after all.” Briefly put, In Love And Warcraft’s happily-ever-after ending left me feeling somewhat jerked around.

But that’s about all I can complain about in a production that kept me entertained throughout, thanks in large part to Alejandra Cisneros’s sparkling direction and her talented young cast.

11993277_997331593641780_8913748068011152940_n Drew Barrymore would have made for a perfect Evie in her early twenties (and not just because she’d Never Been Kissed), but she’s 40 now and probably not willing to volunteer her talents for a modest stipend, so Narasaki is the next-best-thing to Drew, nerdy-cute and spunky and endearing.

As for her Prince Charming, who wouldn’t fall for Korean-American hottie Min, who could easily turn any girl or gay-boy’s heart, and who like his costar has terrific stage presence and acting chops.

12036978_997332420308364_7065012224385953494_n A delightfully sassy Andres takes the stock role of party girl Kitty and makes us take to her despite her apparent lack of pickiness where sex partners are concerned and her seeming inability to say when there’s booze to be imbibed.

11219681_1003840652990874_537630029297002324_n Third-wheel Ryan gets considerably less stage time than the above three, but the engaging Barnum makes the most of still-living-at-home, still-buying-toys (sorry, make that “collectables”) gamer.

10421450_997331510308455_6565894784880794085_n As for Eddie Vona and Cheryl Umaña, the delicious duo steal every scene they’re in in half-a-dozen or roles each, among which are Vona’s sassy gay stylist, his nerdy Physics major, and his grumpy old moviegoer, and Umaña’s fast-Spanish-talking chica, her devout Christian pre-marital celibate, and her caring, instructive gynecologist.

Though I have never understood why anyone would want to spend time playing video games, let alone become addicted to online gaming, In Love And Warcraft humanizes those who do, and in its most daring sequence, allows the audience to experience what it must feel like to actually be inside the virtual world they call home.

11996912_997331843641755_5713635543647606478_n Scenic designer Art Betanzos’s colorful, two level set (unfortunately not yet complete at the time production stills were taken), Magdalena Guillen’s character-defining costumes (with a special nod to her “cosplay” garb), Anthony Aguilar’s vivid lighting design, Sasha Monge’s assorted gamers-and-students’ props, and Iris Zacarías’s snap-crackle-and-pop sound design are all topnotch.

That being said, sightlines at the L.A. Theatre Centre’s Theater 4 are so bad for rows two and three (at the same level as row one) that fully half of the audience can expect a whole lot of head-craning if they happen to be among the unlucky 50%.

Jonathan Castanien is stage manager. Anita Kalathara alternates with Narasaki in the role of Evie. Ruffy Lanayan, Jake Matthews, and Brenda Perez are understudies.

If nothing else, In Love And Warcraft features the kind of ethnically diverse casting that ought to be the norm here in L.A. That it provides its actors with some pretty darn terrific roles to play, and audiences a pretty darn enjoyable time watching them do it, makes the latest from Artists At Play and The Latino Theater Company a zesty romantic comedy treat.

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

–Steven Stanley
October 5, 2105


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