Theater is a confident art form in the hands of dramatist Madhuri Shekar. Her comedy “In Love and Warcraft” pokes fun at the video game industry, chronicling the travails of a college student who’s addicted to online fantasy role-play.
“In Love and Warcraft” also could be said to take on the movie business: As seen in a highly entertaining No Rules Theatre Company production, directed by Joshua Morgan, the play is a bona fide romantic comedy, succeeding so blithely in the format that launched innumerable Hugh Grant flicks that you almost can see Hollywood flailing in the rear-view mirror.
The rom-com protagonist here is the aforementioned college student, Evie (Anu Yadav), a smart, socially awkward English major who has never had sex and doesn’t want to. Despite — or perhaps because of — her virginal status, Evie earns money writing love letters (and texts and Facebook posts) for her less articulate peers. When she is not acting as a digital-age Cyrano de Bergerac, she devotes hours to swashbuckling “Warcraft” universe adventures.
But when Evie begins dating the handsome and sensitive Raul (A.J. Melendez), she has to choose between online commitments and real life. Providing not-always-helpful insight on the matter is Evie’s best friend, Kitty (Dani Stoller), a borderline sex addict who is almost always to be seen sipping a super-size drink through a straw. Obstacles to everyone’s happiness crop up, generate kooky mishaps and finally resolve themselves in gladdening fashion while implying a few easily graspable truths about life and human nature.
It’s a familiar recipe, perhaps, but one that is extremely well realized here, thanks in part to terrific performances and brisk, ebullient pacing. Yadav fills Evie with endearing geekiness, revealing the character’s absurdities yet making her easy to identify with. Melendez finds plausible depth in dreamboat Raul, who develops an almost irrational hatred for the “Warcraft” universe. And Stoller ably exaggerates the eccentricities of Kitty, who talks in a pouty baby voice and at one point feels so sex-deprived that she finds relief in bouncing up and down on a chair.
Kitty has managed the feat of separating physical passion from emotional investment. Sex is just like an amusement park ride, she asserts at one point: “You don’t get emotionally attached to a Ferris wheel!”
While maintaining a focus on this oddball threesome, Los Angeles-based writer Shekar adds perspective by writing in colorful supporting roles and cameos. David Johnson is droll as Ryan, the misfit “Warcraft” fanatic who sees himself as Evie’s online boyfriend. Rounding out the cast are Kaitlin Raine Kemp and Jamie Smithson, who portray a series of characters appearing just long enough to share idiosyncratic views on love and sex. For instance, Smithson depicts Evie’s excitable hairdresser, who can’t stop jabbering about his own most recent bedroom fiasco as he puts the finishing touches on Evie’s locks.
The effect of all these incidental figures is to create a sense of cinematic sweep, which is complemented by the simplicity of Jane Fink’s aqua-tone set. Neil McFadden’s sound design helps evoke campus meeting spots and other locales. McFadden and costume designer Collin Ranney also get to conjure up some gaming sequences.
Life lessons gleaned by Evie notwithstanding, “In Love and Warcraft” is lightheartedly lightweight. And why shouldn’t it be? Why should the creators and consumers of screen entertainment have all the fun?
Wren is a freelance writer.
by Madhuri Shekar. Directed by Joshua Morgan; lighting design, Cory Ryan Frank; fight choreographer, Casey Kaleba; properties design, Sierra Banack. 1 hour and 45 minutes.Tickets: $25-$38. Through Jan. 25at the Ark at Signature Theatre,4200 Campbell Ave., ArlingtonVisit norulestheatre.org or call 703-820-9771.