Keith R.A. DeCandido (kradical) wrote,
Keith R.A. DeCandido

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The Sex with Robots Festival

Last night, Wrenn and I traversed to Long Island City's The Secret Theatre to see Caps Lock Theatre's presentation of The Sex with Robots Festival, a series of eight one-act plays about, well, sex with robots. I first heard of it due to one of the eight plays being written by my good buddy Natalie Zutter, former fellow contributor to and current editor/writer at Bookish.

The show is running three more nights, so if you're in NYC this weekend and wanna see some cool one-act plays, tickets are available at this site. Personally, I think it's more than worth your time and money, as we had a great time.

The evening began with a lovely epic poem of a song by Nat Cassidy called "Sparks Will Fly," which was kind of a sex-with-robots version of Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," with movements, changes in tempo, and a detailed chronicle of a relationship from the happy early days to the awful declining years. (Complete with robot lover growing tired of the human and making eyes at the toaster...)

The first piece was the only one that also had audience participation. The Secret Theatre is, unsurprisingly for pretty much any NYC theatre that isn't walking distance from Times Square (and even some of those), very very very small, done as three-quarters of a theatre-in-the-round, with three rows of seats on three sides of the stage, which isn't so much a stage as the middle of the floor. This puts the audience very close to the action, and the first piece, "Simon Says" by Richard Lovejoy and Eric John Meyer and directed by Michael Gardner, has two people at a dining-room table laughing, and then one of them says to the other, "Simon says..." and then an instruction. Those instructions become increasingly brutal and mean-spirited, and extend to the other person removing his clothes, eating a banana without the use of his hands, using the ends of the bananas as pasties, and other debasements -- and then the audience is encouraged to provide their own instructions. (I was approached, and I had him drink a bit of his wine and pour the rest over his head.) The audience is encouraged to go dark, and finally someone asked him to take a butter knife and cut off his penis, at which point he refused. It ended with the instructor saying, see, he can actually also think for himself and feel things. Now how much would you pay for that? And fade to black. It's a nice evolution, modulating from what looks like a peek into a dysfunctional relationship and turns into a sales pitch.

"Sasha" by Mac Rogers and directed by Pete Voisvert, continues the selling-a-robot theme as Stephen Heskett plays Andrew, who's gone through a messy divorce and is buying the titular robot female companion whom he can program to be whatever he wants. Eventually we see just how fucked up Andrew is, but getting there is half the fun, particularly with Daryl Lathon superbly playing the salesman and Catherine LeFrere absolutely nailing the many modes that Sasha goes into. Heskett didn't quite plumb the emotional depths of the character, but the play worked very well.

The piece I enjoyed the most, simply because it made me laugh so much, was "Girlfriend Repair" by Micheline Auger, directed by Kel Haney. Three grease-monkey types go on about how most people don't believe they exist, and then a kid shows up with a bag of parts from what's left of his sex robot ("Rose"), and is thrilled to have found them. It then modulates into an in-depth discussion of how to stimulate a woman, with incredible detail on oral sex. It's fucking hilarious, aided by simply letter-perfect comic timing among the four actors, Justin Fuller, James Hunter, Anthony Perullo, and Craig Andrew Zisel.

"Just Right" by Mariah MacCarthy and directed by Nick Leavens was one that was constrained by the eight-plays-in-two-hours format, as it felt a bit too rushed. On the one hand the story, about a woman who resurrects her possibly-dead lover as a robot (and this is not her first attempt, but this is when she got her just right, hence the title), has a tremendous amount of emotional turmoil, but one still wishes for an extra 5-10 minutes to allow it to build to the intense emotional (and physical) climax. Lauren Hennessy and Sarah Matteucci absolutely nail it, the former as the volatile jealous re-created Shira while the latter is the neurotic Nina, and their spectacular performances leaven the rush-job issues considerably, but I'd love to see this play being given more air.

I honestly don't know how to describe "Taisetsu Na Hito" by Leah Nanako Winkler and directed by Matt Dickson. It's about a horribly screwed-up couple who hire a Japanese domestic robot that only speaks Japanese (and prepares an awful ham loaf for them). It's the only play that has multiple scenes, as the couple, individually and together, try to interact with the robot that just wants to fold laundry, clean the floor, speak Japanese, and generally not actually interact with them -- which works out just fine, because both of them just need someone to rant at regarding their miserable lives. It ends with a hilarious slow-mo montage of the couple venting their frustrations on each other, on the robot, and on the ham loaf (ham loaf is all over this piece). What really nails it is the mathematical precision with which Mari Yamamoto does the robot's movements and speech patterns, along with her blank porcelain-doll stare, which contrasts beautifully with Alex Herrald as the the beaten-down husband and Darcy Fowler as the emotionally unstable wife.

Natalie Zutter's "A Real Boy" directed by Leta Tremblay is a wonderful examination of the frustrations of dating. It's very much a contemporary piece, as Diana Oh's Zora pulls up mood music on her smartphone, and keeps a record of all her lovers, though her robot lover Robert -- who has transferred her hidden notebook onto a whiteboard -- is annoyed that she doesn't have him on the list. Zora is instantly recognizable as someone who is constantly frustrated with life and can't figure out what she wants, even though what she wants is waiting for her at home every night, as she has the perfect man in her robot. The climax (ahem) when she admits during coitus what the list really is (it's a list of mistakes) works superbly, and Nicko Libowitz plays Robert magnificently (he's a hilarious combination of the "fully functional" version of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Kryten from Red Dwarf). Also the entire evening was worth it for Robert's line during the sex: "When you squeeze my cock, I short-circuit a little." (Natalie told me after the show that that line was in the first draft, and she never even considered changing it in any subsequent draft.)

I found "Make Your Bed in Hell" by J. Julian Christopher and directed by Melissa Attebery to be the weakest piece of the evening, though it, like "Just Right," could've afforded more room to breathe. The trick with one-acts is to create a character in 20 seconds or less, and neither Albert Andrew Garcia's slacker pervert Armando nor Natasha Yannacañedo's uptight Lourdes are quite fully realized -- especially the latter. This is a nice variation on the evening's theme (Armando's sex isn't with robots, it's with electronics in general), but it needed more time to get to know the characters and to appreciate what they are beyond the obvious slacker stereotype with the responsible sister. (I did like the nice touch that Armando's socks were mismatched.)

The evening concluded with "My Fantasy Sex Robot Came in the Mail Today" by Danny Bowes and directed by Amber Gallery. Bowes also plays the male lead, a chubby overweight guy who talks like Radar O'Reilly, while Jennifer Harder plays the hot blonde he's sharing his bed with. The twist is that the incredibly sincere and sweet man is actually the sex robot and the hot blonde who wears high heels to bed (and nothing else) and acts almost porn-star-like until the man tells her he just wants to see her (tellingly, that's when she takes the heels off) is the real person. (There's a nice call-back to "Sasha" in this, too, that makes for a nice touch.) While, on the one hand, I totally saw the twist coming, on the other hand, I appreciated the message that sincerity trumps superficiality. And predictability need not be a bad thing, and in fact that makes the moment at the end when she shuts the robot down for the evening all the more touching.

Overall, this was a delightful evening of themed entertainment, and I especially appreciate that we got a variety of robots for our humans to have sex with -- male, female, neither -- and a variety of relationships, as well. The best science fiction uses SF tropes to examine the human condition, and all these plays did that quite well.

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