There’s a lovely moment partway through the second act of Adam Pasen’s very funny, big-hearted play “Badfic Love” wherein ex-jock and current law student Jared (Jovan King) reflects on his experience working tech crew on a high-school production of “Carousel.” He recalls how he was mocked for his inexperience, for his lack of terminology, and generally made to feel like an outcast. But he also understands that they were simply trying to protect their little patch of turf from his interloping. They wanted to keep it special.
This conflict, between the high nerd gatekeepers and the unwashed masses, is the heart of Pasen’s piece, given its world premiere here by Strange Bedfellows Theatre. The play follows a PhD student, Kyle (Chris Fowler), who falls in love with the subject of his thesis: an intelligent, funny, no-BS woman named Michelle (Cristiana Barbatelli), who also happens to write some of the worst Harry Potter fanfic ever conceived. (It’s not quite “My Immortal,” but it’s close.) Kyle is also a member of an online watchdog organization, the F.I.C., ruled with an iron fist by his nerd-rage-fueled ex, Cynthia (Katie Hunter), that aims to flame out of existence all substandard fanfic. The play also brings Michelle’s stories to life, with Harry (Connor Konz) falling madly and ungrammatically in love with, who else, Draco Malfoy (Jake Szczepaniak, who is ludicrous, hilarious, scene-stealing).
The fantasy scenes in particular are ones where a lesser production might stumble, aiming for “so bad it’s good” campiness and instead landing on “it’s just bad.” Director Aaron Henrickson masterfully avoids these pitfalls, bringing a spunky precision to the play’s many wizardly action sequences. As goofy as the play gets, it never flies out of control or loses its specificity.
The script starts out lean and mean, but begins to sag down the stretch. Resolving the numerous plot-lines leads to a “Return of the King” vibe: ending after ending after ending. But the play’s generous spirit toward outsider art mostly carries it through. It argues that while most fan fiction might be wish fulfillment, there are much worse things that one can wish for than happy endings. (Alex Huntsberger)
Strange Bedfellows Theatre at The Den Theatre, 1333 North Milwaukee, strangebedfellowstheatre.com, $20. Through May 2.