The most impressive trick “In Love and Warcraft” pulls off isn’t visible on screen.
The co-production from Perseverance Theatre and San Francisco-based American Conservatory Theater does use sly techniques to effectively make it seems as if actors separated by many miles share space.
The live, video play directed by Peter J. Kuo does include some creative stage slaps, barely out-of-view kisses and shared artwork help sell that idea —but they pale in comparison to the magic of forgetting there was anything unusual about the play-watching experience at all.
Once the heartfelt and sometimes-raunchy coming of age comedy hit its stride, it didn’t matter that the show was reaching me through my laptop screen, it buzzed with the same immediate energy that comes with a live performance.
It was a simple pleasure to watch actors practice their art and to engage with material that was both new to me and more thoughtful than the majority of similarly sex-minded comedies available on streaming platforms.
“In Love and Warcraft” tells the story of Evie (Cassandra Hunter), a college student obsessed with “World of Warcraft” who makes money on the side writing love texts or social media messages for lovelorn college students or people desperate for reconciliation.
However, in the long traditions of matchmakers who are themselves unlucky in love, Evie is inexperienced in relationships — with the exception of her online sort-of boyfriend, Ryan (James Mercer). Mercer is a lot of fun as Ryan, managing to give the character a sweet obliviousness that undercuts some of the character’s petulant rage and entitlement.
Evie’s fortunes seem to turn when she makes a connection with would-be client Raul (Hernàn Angulo), but are quickly complicated when it becomes increasingly evident Evie’s lifetime of celibacy may be more a matter of choice and identity than circumstance.
The frank discussion of Evie’s possible asexuality in the play was a commendable surprise. While some characters — Evie’s extremely sex-positive roommate Kitty (Evangeline Edwards), Raul and flamboyant hairdresser Nathan (Wesley Guimarães) —openly grapple with or mock Evie’s sexual orientation, but once it becomes clear Evie’s aversion to contact is something more than nerves, her support system attempts to be understanding.
Raul is much more intent on curbing Evie’s “Warcraft” fanaticism than forcing her to do anything she doesn’t want to do and Kitty while befuddled seems at first to be fairly nonplussed by Evie’s lack of physical desires.
That’s not to say any of the characters behave perfectly. Raul attempts to portray himself as a martyr, Kitty is simultaneously glib about Evie potentially be an “ace” while belittling her lack of experience and Evie tends to expect others to capitulate to her wants when they arise.
Edwards, Angulo and Hunter do a good job of selling the rapport shared by their respective characters. The moments in which they attempt to seriously discuss and understand Evie’s sexuality or lack of sexuality mean were, to me, far superior to the comic banter.
But, that could be a result of watching a comedy on my couch rather than in a theater filled with people. The ribald but positive sense of humor that guides the jokes will definitely click hard with some viewers, but it’s the quiet, dramatically charged discussions that set “In Love and Warcraft” apart.
While there is no shortage of collegiate sex comedies, there is a shortage of thoughtful ones that make efforts to give characters multifaceted, internal lives.
That makes “In Love and Warcraft” well worth a watch and elevates it above most of what can be streamed on your laptop.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.