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BWW Reviews: IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT at No Rules Theatre Company

Like Evie, the emotional center of In Love and Warcraft who is surprised to discover she has a full heart, this new play by Madhuri Shekar at No Rules Theatre Company is full of heart, overflowing with warmth and good humor to balance the challenges of intimacy in a world that does not respond logically to strategy and commands.

The production, directed by No Rules Theatre Company Artistic Director Joshua Morgan, features a strong and engaging new script by award-winning playwright Madhuri Shekar. In Love and Warcraft was featured in a National New Play Network workshop at the Kennedy Center and made its world premiere last year at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre. The early-career playwright shows a great ear for dialogue, crisp structure that keeps things moving, and obvious love for the power of words versus action.

But it is the cast that makes the play so memorable. There is a connection and warmth among them that draws us in despite the characters' quirky foibles that make them so human and relatable.

At the core of the production is Anu Yadav as Evie, a master of the virtual Warcraft Universe who is charmingly inept when faced with the complications of attraction, intimacy and vulnerability. From the arch of an eyebrow to the stretch of her fingers Yadav inhabits Evie and we appreciate the character's complexity. Evie, who also pens love letters for hire, thinks relationships are "not as difficult as people think. They're all about the right commands and strategy" the same as her virtual gaming. Then she meets Raul who is most decidedly real. The evolving bond forces Evie to confront her anxiety about a sexual relationship.

AJ Melendez brings great warmth and appeal to Raul. He radiates ease and good humor as he tries to understand quirky, complicated Evie. Raul is very different from Evie's previous relationship with Ryan (David Johnson), a fellow gamer who lives in his parents' basement and uses Evie's money to expand his assortment of collectables. Ryan, with his Star Wars t-shirt and his many Warcraft Universe axioms, is a goof but David Johnson brings depth to role, and is particularly affecting in a sad silent scene where it is clear he has overheard the two making a date.

Evie's roommate Kitty has none of Evie's hang-ups about sex; promiscuous, proud and comfortable in her own skin, she encourages Evie to "stop writing about love and go to it." Dani Stoller plumbs Kitty's depths and shares an intelligent, multifaceted roommate.

Kaitlin Raine Kemp and Jamie Smithson portray a host of eccentric odd couples that bookend many of Evie's scenes, proving there is indeed a lid for every pot. From popcorn munching movie-goers, to breathless Physics majors pondering the universe, to Nathan the hairdresser with an accent that slips despite his proud claim to being "an eighth Puerto Rican." Yet with all the great humor and frenetic energy, it is Kemp's quiet scene as a bride-to-be counseling Evie that is one of the strongest and most memorable.

The production elements support the work, particularly in the later game-based sequences that bring an enjoyable change to the production. Collin Ranney's avatar costumes are especially fun. However the production would have been better served with a wider range of transitional music between scenes than the same 17 seconds of "Electric Twist" which began to grate after the tenth or twelfth listen.

No Rules Theatre Company has a number of audience development events during the run of the production, including a cosplay (costume play gaming) community social at the 2 p.m. matinee on January 24.

It is good to see a theatre company commit to producing new works - they are a box office risk. In Love and Warcraft is a polished and highly entertaining production from an exciting new playwriting voice. No Rules Theatre Company is dedicated to a deep collaboration among artists - this production allows a wonderful ensemble of actors support each other and each have great moments to connect with each other and with the audience.

Runtime: 100 minutes with no intermission

In Love and Warcraft runs through January 25 November 9 with shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm, Sundays at 3 pm with additional show on Monday, January 19 at 8 pm. The production is at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA 22206. For tickets, please visit the No Rules Theatre Company website here.

Photo caption/credit: Upper photo: Evie (Anu Yadav) and Raul (AJ Melendez); lower photo: the avatars of Kitty (Dani Stoller) and Evie (Anu Yadav). Photos by Teresa Wood

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