All’s fair in Custom Made Theatre’s ‘In Love and Warcraft’

Warcraft_Jay_Yamada_Courtesy
Jay Yamada/Courtesy

Historically, gamers have often been portrayed under the unflattering light of several stereotypes. They love Mountain Dew and Cool Ranch Doritos, and they’re willingly confined to the recesses of their parents’ basements. Most of all, they’re usually stereotyped as male virgins. In a sense, the Custom Made Theatre’s take on gaming culture in its production of the romantic comedy “In Love and Warcraft,” with its focus on a hardcore female World of Warcraft player named Evie (Monica Ho), provides a progressive depiction of gaming culture. The play simultaneously fights the stigmas involved with the lifestyle while keeping true to its idiosyncrasies.

“In Love and Warcraft,” written by Madhuri Shekar, follows Evie, a college senior in Los Angeles who has love figured out, despite her status as a virgin with little experience with intimacy. She works as a ghost writer specializing in love letters (has Drake hit her up yet ?). Her less eloquent clients come to her for wedding vows, romantic Facebook posts and letters of reconciliation. Love is like Warcraft, Evie muses. Just enter the right commands in the right order and things will work out.

Things begin to go awry in her meticulously strategized life, however, after meeting Raul (Ed Berkeley), a client for whom she eventually falls. Their interactions are awkward at first, which shows in both their dialogue and their physical gestures, as this seems to be Evie’s first IRL relationship. She’s not used to the touching, the flirting, perhaps even the physical attraction. Eventually, misinterpretations and miscommunications complicate their relationship — as in most romantic comedies — and they must work to patch things up and reunite.

Ho’s portrayal as Evie aptly depicts the pseudo-sexual intensity of World of Warcraft, or WoW. The play opens with Evie playing with her guild as they shout instructions and obscenities throughout their journey in the stage they’re trying to clear. The climax, however, isn’t ejaculation, but rather the dramatic slaying of the level’s boss. Sure enough, upon hearing Evie’s satisfied pants, her roommate Kitty (Laura Espino) asks, “What kind of porn are you watching?”

The pseudo-sexual behavior that Evie displays during her Warcraft raids is firmly juxtaposed with her sexual anxiety. Her virginal identity becomes the main conflict of her relationship: Raul is ready to take the next step, but Evie is still reluctant. Both of them have to question what degree of change a person should go through to accommodate his or her partner.

The audience is later given inklings of the importance that video games hold for Evie, as well as many other WoW players, evident in her argument with Raul. He doesn’t understand why she wants to play so much. “It isn’t real,” he exasperatedly exclaims, to which Evie replies, “It is to me.” Though Evie’s experience with WoW — the hours she’s spent, the character she’s built, the work she’s put into her guild — doesn’t retain a corporeal form, it’s the sole representation of her passion and her interests, which is why she holds it in such high esteem and allows it to play such a big role in her life.

The actors’ movements add physical humor to the smart, but sometimes repetitive dialogue of the play, and this physicality remains the highlight of the production. For example, Ryan (Drew Reitz), Evie’s former WoW boyfriend, often uses a flurry of innovative slurs when he gets flustered, specifically at Evie’s new lover. These, while initially funny, lose their edge as the play continues. His humor, however, is at its best when he hears Evie planning a date with Raul. Crushed, Ryan heartbreakingly clutches his Jabba the Hutt figurine with a look of horror and sadness etched across his face.

The choreography shines brightest in the most climactic point in the plot: a dramatization of the WoW. The characters, dressed as their avatars — think armor, swords, spell books and the like — mimic the quirks of their respective characters within the video game through their robotic and deliberate movements. The actors even utilize swaying motions as a nod toward the idle animations of avatars in WoW. The motions of the characters, as well as the grunts and moans that often accompanied their actions, work to lighten the mood during the tense atmosphere of Evie and Raul’s reconciliation.

Ultimately, Evie learns to break the No. 1 rule of WoW: Don’t stand in the fire. She embraces the risks she was once so averse to and, like Evie, “In Love and Warcraft” presents an insight into gaming culture and rebels against the tropes and traditions of past depictions, all without losing the inherent lightheartedness of a romantic comedy.

Josh Gu covers video games. Contact him at [email protected].