Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar


L - R Jessica Jade Andres, Rosie Naraski, Eddie Vona, Michael Barnum and Justin H. Min - Photo Credit: M. Palma Photography
By Joe Straw


I’m going to make about as true a statement as I can: College football and this show have what in common? Okay, that isn’t a statement but a question, and one that deserves an answer, only later. - Narrator

Artists at Play in association with The Latino Theater Company present the west coast premiere of In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Alejandra Cisneros September 19 – October 11, 2015 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street in Los Angeles, California.

There are two things that make my eyes glass over quickly.  Number one is an auto enthusiast talking about auto repairs and number two is computer geeks talking about computer games.

For now let’s block off car repairs and move that aside.

So, why my interest in seeing this play? Well, there is a commonality between this show and college football. Both college football and the play feature college adults living, working and surviving.  The setting is ripe with conflict, new relationships, making silly mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.   

My reason for attending is that simple.

In Love and Warcraft, written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Alejandra Cisneros, is a marvelous show with some very exceptional and diverse performers giving us multiple characters that marvelously inhabit their space. There are a lot of laughs and a lot of quality acting, more than you see on television these days and that’s a good thing.

It turns out that Warcraft is a real game created by Blizzard Entertainment, first released November 23, 1994, and now a franchise of video games and novels.

And now it is evolving from TV to interactive computer games, and then back to the theatre. Funny, that’s full circle, and lots of fun.  

This is a story of boy meets girl, kinda.  Girl meets another boy because boy lost girl, well sort of.  Girls dumps boy because she’s lonely, not really.  Girl hasn’t had a date in a while so girl steals already taken boy, well sort of.  Real life played like a computer game with various realities and choices. All in all, they are Avatars.

Avatar:  A graphical representation of the player’s character.  

Evie (Rosie Narasaki) and Ryan are Warcraft virtual girlfriend and boyfriend.  Evie, a college student, makes money writing love letters for other college students that haven’t learned the art of written communication.  And Ryan is an out of work young man living in his parents’ basement in San Diego, going to the top of nowhere.  

Kitty (Jessica Jade Andres), Evie’s spunky tart girlfriend, wants to breakup with her boyfriend.  Oh, it’s all for the best.  She’s ready to move on and search for another victim, boyfriend, all in the quest of fulfilling her dramatic and unquantifiable physical needs.   

Evie, ready for work, waits for Raul (Justin H. Min), so that she can write a love letter for him.  Unfortunately for Evie, Raul turns out to be the hunk she has been waiting for all of her life. 

That’s IRL (in real life), not virtual.  But never mind that, there’s work to be done. Evie is a Healer.

Healer:  Spellcasters with the power to heal other players.

Raul wants to get back with his girlfriend of two years because making up is so much fun.  So Evie, with her literary powers, composes a nice letter for him.  (Funny but I didn’t see payment exchange hands.) 

Justin H. Min, Rosie Narasaki

Later, Evie and Ryan go on a virtual date. Given the circumstances of this long distant relationship, two hours away is about as romantic as they are going to get. Also, Evie has certain physical issues.

Kitty advises Evie that her relationship with Ryan is a lose/lose situation and sending him money is not the way to show affection.  

“You could do better.” - Kitty

The next day, Raul bumps into Evie and says that he didn’t give the letter to his ex-girlfriend because “none of it was true.” And then Raul asks Evie out for a real date, not a virtual one, and Evie accepts. 

Excited Evie runs off to see her Latino gay haircutter, dresser, barber (Eddie Vona as Male).  Male, in his Spanish accent, flits over her like a fly over raw hamburger meat, making her feel the best she can be, all the while going into graphic details of his sexual conquest the night before.    

And after Evie leaves, Female (Cheryl Umaña), in her best Puerto Rican Spanish, recounts her obnoxious date, who shows up late, wearing cheap cologne, putting his hands all over her and himself, and then exploding all over her new jeans.  All this in great details while Male meekly sweeps up.  But Male doesn’t understand anything she is saying. He doesn’t speak Spanish.  Female says it’s all about being authentic.   

Later Evie has a real date with Raul. And Evie remains not interested in sex even after dating for a month.  Although Raul wants more to the relationship, he is willing to wait.

Evie thinks there is something wrong with her vagina so she visits her doctor (Cheryl Umaña) and after a lot of exploration the doctor finds…

Artists at Play (AAP) are a collective of Asian American creative professionals who curate quality theatre in Los Angeles. Truth be told, In Love and Warcraft is as fine example of a theatrical outing as you will find in Los Angeles. 

AAP is filled with exceptional talent. The production has a cast of six but with costume and character changes, it seemed like there were ten or twelve actors on stage.

Jessica Jade Andres is exceptional as Kitty and is able to take that life to extremes. Kitty is witty, oversexed, and has an extremely charming personality. Andres pulls off an amazing physical life for Kitty.

Cheryl Umaña is also exceptional playing a variety of characters.  Her Spanish is top rate and her ability to create differing characters offers this show a lot of creativity. Umaña is an amazing talent and one hopes to see more of her in future shows.

Eddie Vona, Cheryl Umaña

Eddie Vona is also excellent, especially as the barber where one is just stupefied by the things coming out of his mouth.  This small bit is a great showcase for an actor with incredible talent and the ability to create a fantastic multi-level character.

Justin H. Min is Raul the main love interest who gets himself into a lot of trouble in the end.  The character may be too nice as he waits for his companion to come around. There is more to this character, not wanting to wait, dying inside, and demonstrating humorous conflict with no bounds, while he’s waiting. Min has a great look and a very nice presence on stage. He is an actor with a natural flair and should do very well in this industry.

Michael Barnum plays Ryan.  It’s hard to see him when he is stuck on the second level looking on his computer speaking geek. But there is a special quirkiness to his character when he appears on the first level and he does some fine work.

Rosie Narasaki played Evie on the night I was there.  She did some interesting work but she needs to find the core of the character.  Her character is caught between two worlds, the virtual and the real life world.  In the virtual world, she can be anyone, do anything, and be as sexual as she wants to be.  But in the real world, she thinks something is wrong with her sexually and her ability to connect with other living beings.  So much so, that she visits a doctor to find out what is wrong with her parts.  Never once does she consider counseling.  Naytheless, Narasaki must put a definitive stamp on her virtual world, and then deeply explore her real life hang-ups via the inner and physical life of the character. Still, this is not a bad job.

Other members in the cast who did not perform the night I was there are Anita Kalathara (Evie), Ruffy Landayan (Male), Jake Matthews (Raul, Ryan) and Brenda Perez (Kitty, Female).

Alejandra Cisneros, the Director, has an impressive list of actors in Warcraft and she makes full use of the two-level stage.  At times, the show plays like a teen sitcom, but moves beyond with the adult humor. It would be nice to find a way to get the character Ryan out of the rafters and on to the playing floor so that we can make more of his performance.  For the most part, the virtual world was handled in the manner of a real world situation and one thinks there should be a clear distinction. The manner of how Evie feels in a real world situation versus a virtual world should be clearer.   We see that late in the show, but by then it is too late. That note aside, Cisneros does a fine job.

Madhuri Shekar, Playwright, has written an exceptional play. In reality, the virtual world has only tapped a small part of our collective imagination but in Warcraft, Shekar manages to show us how much crazier real life is as opposed to a virtual life.  That said, Warcraft is an exceptional idea that can even go further in its distinction between real and virtual life.  Also, and just a note about the play, it is unclear why two characters in the show are named “Male” and “Female”. All characters in a professional outing should have names. That aside, the writing is superior and the night was exciting.

Art Betanzos, Set Designer, provides a very workable set very similar to teen sitcoms on television.

Magdalena Guillen, Costume Designer, along with Estrella Fernandez, Asst. Costume Designer, does fantastic work especially with the Warcraft costumes.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Anthony Aguilar – Lighting Designer
Iris Zacarias – Sound Designer
Sasha Monge – Property Master, Asst. Set Designer
Jonathan Castanien – Stage Manager
Brandon Cheng – Production Manager
Chloe Haack – Asst. Stage Manager
Julia Cho – Producing Artistic Leader
Stefanie Lau – Producing Artistic Leader
Marie-Reine Velez – Producing Artistic Leader
Nicholas Pilapil – Producer

Members of the LATC crew are as follows:
Jose Luis Valenzuela – Artistic Director
Lori Zimmerman – Interim Gereral Manager
Dr. Chantal Rodriguez – Programming Director

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves UCLA football!

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