Last weekend, the Tulsa-based Heller Theatre Company opened a production of “In Love and Warcraft,” written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by George Romero. The play follows a college student named Evie, an avid World of Warcraft player who falls in love with a man named Raul. Unfortunately, even this basic premise falls flat because the chemistry between the two main actors just isn’t there. Evie is written to be awkward, which is fine because the actress conveys it well most of the time, but the actor playing Raul feels awkward in an unintentional way that makes the love-at-first-sight meeting between them unbelievable.
Despite this, the main two characters look practically complex relative to some others in the show. Evie’s roommate Kitty is a one-dimensional sex freak who feels overacted to the point that she becomes unbelievable. The same goes for Evie’s online boyfriend, the 25-year-old Mountain Dew-chugging basement dweller, Ryan. Other characters, like the gay Puerto Rican hairdresser, Nathan, are flamboyant stereotypes that seem as though they’re meant to act as a foil to the reserved Evie but instead come off as uncomfortable and offensive.
Minor characters get few lines and even fewer character dimensions. Evie has a job writing love letters and messages for people needing to reconcile with their exes, and the people that come to her exist only as punchlines and plot devices instead of believable people wanting to salvage their relationships.
Another area of the play that feels unbelievable is the allusion to gamer culture throughout the majority of the scenes. Lines like “your DPS has gone down since you’ve been offline” and “your armor is rusting,” delivered by people staring at laptops on separate segments of the stage feel like forced attempts to appeal to gamers without actually knowing how Warcraft works or how gamers actually speak.
Costumes and props meant to be nerdy also feel outdated and surface-level, like a Nyan Cat hoodie Evie wears or a Portal turret plush in her room. The worst offender, however, was before the play and during intermission when music videos from 2009-2010 like The Guild’s “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?” and the WoW music video for Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” were projected and played for the audience.
These projections weren’t only used to show mid-show entertainment, but for title cards at the beginning of every scene. The scenes were titled in the script as well, but the titles of the scenes were often punchlines lifted straight from the script. This meant that the audience had already seen the punchlines before the actors say them, which made the play feel like it was actively working against itself.
Many of the scenes themselves felt like they could have been cut alongside their title cards. Some scenes with Evie and one side character, like the aforementioned Nathan or a scene with an OB/GYN in which the actress playing Evie made what the least convincing orgasm noises I’ve ever heard, didn’t seem to add much to the overall plot, and some scenes that only featured minor characters talking about sex and then leaving felt unnecessary.
One scene that stood out as a hallmark of what the rest of the play could have been was a scene set in the Warcraft world in which different characters are talking and taking on an in-game boss. Costumes and props for this scene were the best looking in the production, and the actors standing in idle animations while talking and not quite connecting when making purposefully stiff attacks had a level of video game awareness that other scenes seemed to be lacking.
Regardless of the quality of individual scenes, the biggest issue with the play comes from the main plotline. The first act sets up the relationship between Evie and Raul, but a tension arises near the end when Evie admits that she’s terrified and uninterested in having sex. Of course, Raul wants to have sex, so tensions come to a head at the end of act one, when Raul agrees only to not have sex if Evie agrees to give up WoW.
This is problematic on many levels. First, it sets up a second act in which Evie’s major character development is her changing her entire view on sex and relationships to please Raul. The only character change Raul goes through is learning that World of Warcraft is a fun game.
Second, the play seems to largely ignore Evie’s consent. Raul’s sexual urges and frequent advances are depicted as normal and reasonable, while Evie’s fear and disinterest in sexuality are painted as strange and something that needs to be fixed. Near the first act, Evie mentions that she has had to stop Raul’s advances multiple times, but he isn’t willing to stop making advances until he gets something in return (Evie stops playing WoW). In the second act, whenever Evie talked to someone about her fears, the responses ranged from ‘You’re not ready yet’ to ‘It’s all in your head,’ all of them saying that Evie was the one that needed to change.
Third, it implies that a relationship can’t be successful and happy without sex. Evie speaks to a Christian woman who hired her to write wedding vows, and the woman seemed to speak more about looking forward to having sex with her fiancee than she was to be married to someone she loves. This setup also ignores the possibility that a person can be asexual. Evie’s character was set up for what could have been an ending statement that asexual people can create meaningful relationships without sex. Instead, we get an uninspired ending in which a woman changes herself for her boyfriend and the two live happily ever after.
Despite some areas that showed potential, “In Love and Warcraft” had significant problems with both the script and the production. The show is still playing next weekend at Henthorne PAC if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, but I would recommend it more as an opportunity to learn what not to do than something to be enjoyed unironically.