Monday, November 23, 2015

"In Love and Warcraft"


In Love and Warcraft
Madhuri Shekar

Ed Berkeley & Monica Ho
Hormones are racing; hearts are pumping; and bodies are gyrating up and down with sweat dripping freely from head to toe as four SoCal college types (two men, two women) go at it.  But these four are not having a raging sex party in some campus frat or dorm (at least not at this moment).  Instead, they are engaged in mortal battles in a virtual world where, as their Medieval-like warrior avatars, they swing their mighty weapons of tomorrow land against alien-like serpents and dragons of yesteryear.  And while such antics may not sound that much like the opening scenes of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day film, these are in fact the beginning minutes of a delightfully funny and heart-tugging romantic stage comedy in the same genre as those 50s-60s classics.  With a young and talented cast of six and the spot-on direction of James Nelson, The Custom Made Theatre Company presents In Love and Warcraft, a Bay Area premiere of this 2014 script by the up-and-coming playwright, Madhuri Shekar.

Evie is a literature major who has a thriving side business composing emails, texts, and love letters for fellow students who want to meet up, make up, or break up romantically with another person.  Her philosophy is that “all you need (for love) are the right words, the right strategies, and the right commands.”  While she can rapidly spew flowery metaphors and sexually tantalizing lines by the dozens, she herself seems to have no interest in dating  -- and especially not in sex.  “I’m just one of those people who don’t need it,” something that totally exasperates her blonde, sex-bomb roomie Kitty: “Stop just writing about it and do it!”  Any inner tensions that need releasing for Evie come not from jumping into bed with some hot guy but, with her every free moment, plunging into the virtual, role-playing world of “Warcraft” and turning into a hyper, finger-pounding maniac on her computer.  There she joins other equally crazed sorts both that she knows and that she has never met (like Ryan, whom she pretends is her beau … “but not in real life.”)  Something new, however, starts pumping through her veins when dreamy Raul pays her a visit as a client and decides immediately to give up trying to win back an old girlfriend and instead actively pursue the cute and pixie Evie.  While she does find herself stammering and swooning when seeing him and gives into actually dating, she resists even after several weeks any sexual forays beyond a light kiss on too-puckered lips.  When the two eventually agree that she will give up gaming (which Raul finds annoying) if he will give up sex (and just cuddle and hold her hand “to make me feel safe”), it does not take long to see that this is a pact fraught with many sure-fire flaws.  What follows fills up the rest of the two-act play with waves of hilarious misadventures, misunderstandings galore, and other worldly pursuits where love conquers all.

Monica Ho is the gamer Evie who sits crouched on a couch in campus slouch-wear with the furious intensity and passion most often associated with 15-year-old boys in front of their screens of virtual life-and-death struggles.  She also transforms nicely into a bouncy, overly nervous girly-girl, dressed to the nines with flowing black hair, when on her first date with Raul.  Ms. Ho finds a wide range of convincing ways to create an Evie who must figure out where she really wants to win, in the real or the virtual world – or to discover some magical way to do both.

Ed Berkeley’s tall and muscularly framed Raul looms over the tiny Evie with moony eyes, gentle spirit, and hands that stroke lightly and tentatively, always with full respect of her no-sex wishes.  His Raul shows the patience of Job in ways that would be unlikely for most college hunks, but his naturally low-key and consistently persistent pursuit of Evie is both believable and fun to watch – especially when Mr. Berkeley surprises everyone – Evie and us – in his secret plan finally to seal the deal with her.

Laura Espino, Monica Ho, Ed Berkeley & Drew Reitz
Backing up this fine duo is a cast that sparkles in every comic antic.  Laura Espino is excellent as the sexually charged Kitty whose head instantly turns and body goes into over-drive at the sight of a possible male victim but who also loves being roomie with Evie – gleefully sharing gossip, sternly giving advice, and devilishly plotting how to get her virgin friend finally laid.  Drew Reitz is the rather creepy Ryan who mostly lives in a world of other-reality and who dictatorially rules with warlike commands a group of gamers he has never met.  His social awkwardness and emotional immaturity burst onto the stage in a laugh-out-loud sequence once he thinks he may lose Evie – not as girlfriend but as a virtual teammate. 

Sal Mattos quickly rearranges his half-shaved head with other half full of shoulder-draping hair to change into four completely different characters, including a show-stopping, hair-dresser Nathan who makes Evie beautiful while bringing the house down with his high-pitched, excited recounting of the last boy he pursued in bed.  Amanda Farbstein also nails four walk-on roles, varying from coed Claire’s forcing her boyfriend into just the right pose (“We can’t be official until we take a Facebook selfie”) to a gynecologist who probes with lots of lube into Evie’s most private parts to assure her there is no reason for sex to be out of the question. 

The no-frills stage designed by Devin Kasper of just roving couch, chair, and table coupled with Cat Howser’s minimal (but clever) properties that quickly appear and disappear as needed work well enough for James Nelson’s fast-moving, comedic pace and the seamless changes of the script’s many scenes.  Brooke Jennings creates costumes that prove ready for the campus, for the dance floor, and especially for the virtual battlegrounds of warriors and monsters.

All in all, In Love and Warcraft as produced by Custom Made is a feel-good, light-hearted, but also not-your-everyday romantic comedy that deserves to be seen by Millennials and Boomers alike.

Rating: 4 E’s

In Love and Warcraft continues for The Custom Made Theatre Company at 533 Sutter Street, Second Floor, through December 12, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://www.custommade.org/box-office-2/.


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