American Conservatory Theater opened its season virtually with “In Love and Warcraft,” featuring, top, from left, James Mercer as Ryan and Cassandra Hunter as Evie, and, bottom, Evangeline Edwards as Kitty. (Courtesy ACT)

ACT opens virtually with ‘In Love and Warcraft’

Plentiful shorts in Our Digital Stories, up-close look at Euripides’ ‘Bacchae’

It’s easy to see why American Conservatory Theater, in a coproduction with Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, chose Madhuri Shekar’s “In Love and Warcraft” to open its season (virtually): It had been produced previously, in May (performed by a strong cast of ACT’s master’s of fine art students) and clearly is a play that can work, to a degree, on Zoom. In fact, one whole section toward the end is a re-creation of an onscreen video game-, and many of the two-act comedy’s short scenes comprise two people talking to each through digital devices.

When characters are meant to be in the same room, though, it’s awkward. I’m not sure why director Peter J. Kuo made some of the compositional choices he did, with characters pretending to be, for example, embracing, but in such an odd way that we see mere slivers of their bodies. Still, we theater-lovers know by now to make allowances during these trying times.

The main character, Evie (Cassandra Hunter), a brainy English lit major, is 22 and a virgin who’s addicted to cosplay. She’s apparently only fully functional when inhabiting her sexy and powerful avatar. Her slutty roommate and best friend, Kitty (Evangeline Edwards), is addicted to sex. The scenes between them—Kitty whining that she hasn’t been laid in hours, and trying to convince level-headed Evie to give up her virginity, particularly to the handsome Raul (Hernán Angulo)—are light-hearted fun and, one hopes, will lead to an in-depth look at Evie’s irrational fear of sex, if that’s what it is, and Kitty’s fear of celibacy.

Raul is in fact a client; Evie freelances as a writer-for-hire, composing romantic emails, texts, telegrams and the like for the language-challenged, and Raul needs a love letter to send to a girlfriend. He and Evie are immediately attracted to each other, but she still won’t tumble into bed with him and can’t really articulate why. And, too good to be true, Raul is willing to be her boyfriend nevertheless.

“Stop writing about it! Do it!” advises Kitty, but Evie, who can so easily scribble passionate love letters, prefers the fantasy game “Warcraft Universe” to real life.

Assorted characters (Wesley Guimarães and Madeline Isabel Yagle in multiple roles) and Evie’s on-screen “Warcraft” buddy, Ryan (a wild-eyed James Mercer), who’s even more afraid of real life than she is, are part of the mix.

Entertaining as the play is (although at times Kuo pushes the comedic antics over the top) and no doubt especially appealing to gamers, it sails along on a superficial level throughout and never really justifies its two-hour length or fulfills its potential as a look at youthful addictions.

Live streams are at 11 a.m. Sept. 11 and 8 p.m. Sept. 12; the show also can be viewed online Sept. 18-25. General tickets are $15-$20 at https://secure.act-sf.org/events. Subscribers and patrons can access the show at virtualact.org.auth.

Jeffrey Lo’s “We’re Here Now” features a character played by Wes Gabrillo in a video chat with his girlfriend (Reneet Aliza Rahamim). (Courtesy Our Digital Stories)

An ensemble of six local theater artists, under the nom de théâtre Our Digital Stories, streams short (13-minute) playlets written specifically for online viewing and read by fine local actors. Among them is Geetha Reddy’s “Rites, Customs and Celebrations,” in which a pair of teenagers (played by Kush Soni and Samantha Estella) wend their way through a culture clash of families (his is Indian) as they prepare for a virtual prom on Zoom.

In Jeffrey Lo’s “We’re Here Now” a young man (Wes Gabrillo) proposes to his girlfriend (Reneet Aliza Rahamim) in a video chat. Both are endearing in the lonely awkwardness of lockdown. Conrad Panganiban’s “River’s Message” goes mystical, as a student (Kendall Young), writing a term paper for her online college class, discovers a way to communicate with dead people whose profiles remain on Facebook (as they all apparently do), and offers her grieving classmate River (Sophia Sherman) an otherworldly opportunity.

In a similar vein—sci-fi, and about dead people—Isabella Waldron’s “Reunion” is both funny and touching. A middle-aged man (Bill King) logs onto a website that offers him a virtual meeting with a simulation of a now-deceased lover from his youth (Keith Khorana Stevenson). It’s full of regret for a love affair that might have been. Lots more are available at ourdigitalstories.org.

For the rare opportunity to watch two master actors—Anthony Fusco and John Douglas Thompson—work and rework a short scene under the direction of equally inspired former American Conservatory Theater artistic director Carey Perloff, check out this San Francisco Playhouse “Zoomlet”: The actors explore a small section of Euripides’ “The Bacchae,” reading it three times (including switching roles) and, in between, discussing the various motivations and attributes of the two characters, the god Dionysius and Pentheus, the King of Thebes. It’s an eye-opening glimpse of actors and director (joined by SF Playhouse’s Bill English) in top creative form as they tackle a Greek classic. Visit https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/zoomlet/.

Clockwise, from top left, Carey Perloff, Anthony Fusco and John Douglas Thompson talk about Euripides’ “The Bacchae” in a San Francisco Playhouse online event. (Courtesy San Francisco Playhouse)

Coming attraction: Word for Word’s new series of podcasts features stories from E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. The first episode, “The Air-Ship,” launches Sept. 17 at 5 p.m., with all remaining available after opening. Visit zspace.org/pod.

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