Two ancients explore the nature of their love in ‘Warplay’ from Azuka Theatre

James  Kern  (left) and  Jeff  Gorcyca  in  Azuka  Theatre’s  production  of  warplay. (Johanna Austin/austinart.org )

James Kern (left) and Jeff Gorcyca in Azuka Theatre’s production of warplay. (Johanna Austin/austinart.org )

The playwright JC Lee has some gall naming his characters A and P in “Warplay.” If you come into the theater cold, without knowing anything about his smooth evocation of a deeply felt love, his story may be little more than a confusing look at two gay guys with lots of personal shtick.

So you should know that A and P are the mythical Achilles and Patroclus, the war hero and the soldier. Their relationship in Homer’s “Iliad” is ambiguous, but when Shakespeare wrote them into his play “Troilus and Cressida,” he left no room for interpretation: In the play, the two men are lovers who dally inside Achilles’ tent while their Greek comrades battle the Trojan forces.

“Warplay,” in a thoughtful and affecting production from Azuka Theatre, delivers a picture of gay lovers whose ethos incorporates ideals people generally consider as manly, good and bad. In addition, it constantly references the mythical source material through the end of its plot, yet cleverly pulls the two men from their ancient context to bring them closer to our lives.

“You are a 34 percent psychopath, based on WebMD searches,” Patroclus tells Achilles as they hide from the world — in this version, not in a tent but at a little playground they’ve found (Thom Weaver’s simple set eventually contains the River Styx). Friends since childhood, the two men go back and forth in the 70-minute one-act about heroism, their past, the vagaries of male-driven competition. Underlying it all, they are talking about the link between dependence and love.

There’s something fresh and innocent about “Warplay,” brimming with ideas, and grounded by the couple’s deep relationship. Some of it, for sure, has to do with the direction by Kevin Glaccum, Azuka’s artistic leader, who obviously understands these two guys in the realistic way he paces their give-and-take conversations. Jeff Gorcyca plays Achilles, always the hero, and James Kern is Patroclus, always the tag-along. The two actors build their characters quickly and clearly. In their patter and in the ways they challenge each other, they bring to life a play that shows the unchanging nature of love, ancient or modern.

“Warplay,” produced by Azuka Theatre, runs through Nov. 18 at Azuka’s performance home, the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake on South Hicks Street. Hicks runs to the side of the Drake Apartments, on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets. 215-563-1100 or azukatheatre.org.  

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