by Richard Hinojosa · November 10, 2013
I really enjoyed The Sex with Robots Festival. It’s not just about screwing toasters - it actually delves much farther into the hearts and minds of robots and humans alike. I think what I love most about robots and their stories are what they reveal about us. I mean, what does it say about a society that is enlightened enough to abolish slavery but then creates a machine in its own image only to enslave it? Sex slaves no less! Robot stories often involve the inevitable struggle to be more “human” than the real humans, which only leads us to contemplate all the things we take for granted. Our emotions are complex and contradictory to a robot learning them. To their confusion, our freedom of choice often leads to our own destruction. The talented playwrights of have a ball with these classical robot fiction themes in this cool evening of short plays. Caps Lock Theatre puts on a great showcase that I hope becomes an annual event!
The show opens with a fantastic musical prologue courtesy of Nat Cassidy. He sets up the evening perfectly with his soulful tune about a lifetime of robot love titled Sparks Will Fly. Indeed they did. The first play of the evening is Richard Lovejoy’s and Eric John Meyer’s tense comedy Simon Says. It tackles some of the same themes as Natalie Zutter’s charming play A Real Boy and Danny Bowes’s warm tale titled My Fantasy Sex Robot Came in the Mail Today. In Simon Says, a robot (Lovejoy) must do everything Simon (Diana Oh subbing for Eric John Meyer) says no matter how ridiculous. The tension rises as we wonder how far Simon will go but then Simon asks the audience to command the robot to do their bidding and the tension skyrockets. Kudos to Meyer who has the courage to get naked and do whatever he is told. A Real Boy explores what happens when sex toys talk (and think and feel). A young woman (Diana Oh) discovers that she and her walking/talking sex toy (Nicko Libowitz) are actually quite similar. They both store meticulous data. They play emotional games and they love each other in an unhealthy way. Zutter’s text is vivid, thoughtful and brooding. Bowes’s My Fantasy Sex Robot Came in the Mail Today looks at another couple but things are not what they appear to be on the surface. Bowes tenderly (and nakedly) examines the idea of having a sex robot that feels lucky to be with you.
The next three plays focus on the faulty wiring within many people. The robots here are doing exactly what they should be doing but their owners have some issues. In Mac Rogers’s wonderfully dark and poignant play, Sasha, we see a recently divorced man (Stephen Heskett) shopping for a sex robot (Catherine LeFrere) that is touted as being whatever its owner wants it to be. In classic sci-fi form Rogers takes that and turns it on its head giving us a look into the darker side of our desire. Mariah MacCarthy’s terse drama, Just Right, explores why we sometimes return to abusive relationships. Here we see a young woman (Sarah Matteucci) who has been tweaking the personality programming of model after model of her deceased girlfriend (Lauren Hennessy). Finally, she gets her just right but once the joy of reuniting wears off the real nature of their relationship becomes clear. In an outstanding look at our need to unload onto a third party, playwright Leah Nanako Winkler gives us a stylish and funny comedy titled Taisetsu Na Hito, which means, “Is it ok if I call you an important person?” And that’s a perfect title for this brilliant and very well performed short. The robot character here is a subservient maid (Mari Yamamoto) who only speaks Japanese. She becomes a sort of pet to the couple (Darcy Fowler and Alex Herrald). They begin to privately open up to her telling her their thoughts and desires only to find themselves fighting over the affections of a machine that is unable to generate them.
The acting is great across the board and the production runs very smoothly. The sets are bare minimum so the transitions between shows go by unnoticed. Even though it lacks any kind of high tech or even low tech special effects or set/prop/costume design, this evening of robot plays really captures the essence of the classic sci-fi debate over natural robot evolution and the civil rights that should follow. The playwrights dig deep into the ethics of how we treat this creation of ours while peering into our own glitches. The stories are fresh and imaginative. It’s like picking up a great volume of sci-fi short stories except they’re coming to life right before your eyes. There is also a strong feeling of community, both on stage and in the audience. The robots bring out our humanity and I for one looked at others with more understanding.