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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Digital Love

According to Evie, relationships are not as complicated as people think. You just need the right words, the right commands and the right strategies. 

But a new theater production explores whether or not game theory can be useful in the pursuit of true love. 

Sponsored by the Pierce College Associated Students Organization (ASO), the Journeymen club’s production of “In Love and Warcraft” looks directly at the struggles of personal intimacy through the prism of virtual life. 

Ironically, the play, written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Roya Row, was presented via Zoom on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13 and 14. 

Set in present day California, “In Love or Warcraft” is a romantic comedy about college senior and hardcore gamer Evie (Janel Javier), who is trying to figure out her true feelings toward love, sex and relationships, while remaining safely inside the fantasy bubble of online gaming. 

With its focus on the internet and multi-player gaming, the story attempts to explore how technology has both helped and hurt people, especially in the realm of establishing romantic and loving relationships. 

As the play opens, the World of Warcraft is represented as a magical place where Evie (Janel “JJ” Javier) can be whoever or whatever she wants to be. 

According to the rules of the game, if she’s smart, strategic and “stays out the fire,” she can accomplish whatever she wants. 

Adding to the intrigue, Evie has an online boyfriend and fellow gamer Ryan (Tomas Ciriaco) who she has never met “in real life,” and a best friend the excellent Kitty (Eadan Einbinder) who is her polar opposite. 

Wickedly promiscuous and fun loving, Kitty serves to constantly remind Evie that her online relationships are nothing more than a poor substitute for the “real thing.” 

Operating a side business as a kind of love guru, Evie earns extra dollars by writing love letters for jilted partners. A service she cheerfully provides for friends and clients, including the attractive newcomer in her life Raul (Michael Kendrick).

Her expertise is an illusion though, as Raul subsequently finds out. Evie, he discovers, is secretly terrified of intimacy, having never been in a real relationship before. 

The immediate physical and emotional attraction Evie and Raul feel toward each other early in the play is how the initial status quo of “In Love and Warcraft” is broken. 

Raul then challenges Evie to come out of her online world and to go past those boundaries she originally set on herself. 

But will she? 

In finding out the answer to this question, there’s a lot to like about the collective feel and the individual performances of the Journeymen production. The actors handled themselves well in a difficult technical environment which does not lend itself well to the physical nature of romantic comedy. 

In character, Evie’s exuberance was infectious. Kitty’s sensuality, compelling. Ryan’s anxieties, unsettling, and Raul’s calm demeanor, soothing and attractive. 

These naturally opposing forces, of Evie and Kitty, and Raul and Ryan, were the main focus of the play’s action, and in that respect, the cast was strong in all four corners. 

In particular, the character of Raul, easily managed to cause sufficient physical and emotional mayhem with the others around him to keep the plot moving crisply along. 

In a generally sparse visual environment, there was a lot riding on good characterization and comedic skills to help carry the audience through the action. That particular aspect of the production worked well. 

Scenes outside of the main narrative were nicely visualized and combined into the storyline, adding some much needed color and additional humor. 

Moments of genuine intimacy were occasionally reduced to awkward exercises in laptop camera choreography. Actor’s body language relative to one another didn’t always align properly, but this was generally easy to overlook. Star crossed lovers, Evie and Raul, managed to believably connect with each other and with the audience.

Unfortunately, it was only in the final scenes that the visceral appeal of the gaming world and the glamor of costume play was finally brought into the production. In a regular theater environment, this alternative world could have perhaps been used more frequently and introduced much earlier.

Overall, the production was fun, enjoyable to watch, and sufficiently thought provoking for those of us who currently spend way too much time online. 

Finally, back to the question of game theory, fantasy worlds, costume play and its significance or relevance to the affairs of the human heart? The verdict fortunately, is still out.

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